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"Tora Tora Tora" is my favorite war movie, and objectively one of the best
documentary-style accounts of an historical military event. Told equally
from the Japanese point of view (actually, more), it reflects a joint
Japanese-American effort to stage the events leading up to Japan's attack
Pearl Harbor and the attack itself. Martin Balsam plays Admiral Kimmel,
supported by a good cast portraying the key U.S. figures, but closest to a
central personality (there really is none) is Admiral Yamamoto (So
Yamamura), the architect of the strike. "Tora" contrasts his views on
naval/air strategies with those of the Japanese "Old Guard", and emphasizes
his doubts about the notion of war with the U.S.
From the American side, apart from Kimmel and U.S. Army General Short (Jason Robards), the principal characters are decoders Colonel Rufus Bratton (E.G. Marshall) and Lieutenant Commander Alvin Kramer (Wesley Addy) -- actually, in both cases, more so than Short. "Tora" gets straight to the point -- no good love stories ("From Here to Eternity") or inane ones ("Pearl Harbor") get in the way. The only mention of the subject comes when Kramer, as the ability to trust anyone is being questioned, is asked whether he trusts his wife, and states, "as a matter of fact, I do." Good, let's get down to business.
Unlike in the plastic "Pearl," in which "oil" is the 10-second explanation for the bombing, the Japanese are treated in depth. The warlike spirit is shown, but Japanese are not all saber-rattling fanatics, and are willing to consider peaceful alternatives. Aside from Yamamoto, important figures are strategist Admiral Genda; naval task force leader Admiral Nagumo; and air strike leader Lt. Fuchida. I won't bother to name other Japanese actors, but suffice it to say none is Toshiro Mifune; for whatever reason, many (including myself at one point--well, I was once his neighbor in Tokyo) seem convinced he is in "Tora."
"Tora" being chiefly a chronicle of military facts, there is no appearance from symbols of state President Roosevelt, though his advisors figure prominently, and Emperor Hirohito, and only a brief one of hawkish Prime Minister Tojo; his predecessor Prince Konoye, whose desire not to have war with America is eclipsed, is given more focus. The issue of Roosevelt's advance knowledge was rudimentary in 1970, and is not the sort of thing the film sought to treat anyway. Amen, read that last clause again, those who criticize unfairly some aspects of the movie.
Kimmel is portrayed more sympathetically than Short, who comes across as somewhat brusque and brassy and makes a major strategical error by keeping U.S. planes together in the airfields to guard against sabotage in Hawaii by Japanese locals. From the navy's viewpoint, problems were perceived, but a principal difficulty was simply that there were not enough ships to go around, aside from the problem of generally underdeveloped mechanisms of defense, such as radar. However, the movie also shows, more subtly, that Kimmel was not up to the task.
The earlier part of "Tora" focuses on piecemeal strategic points without completely tying them together. However, there is much to cover, so it is difficult to provide contexts and explanations for everything. What we do get is presentation of the most important strategic issues, and America's unpreparedness. As the time of the attack approaches, "Tora" takes advantage of its better opportunity with events, as opposed to strategies: the Japanese submarine, the radar warning, the telegram, other communications failures, bad luck with weather. It clearly sets forth the near-term facts behind America's failure of prevention--just tell us what happened. But ultimately, the biggest blunder is on the Japanese side, separate from the attack itself. Admiral Yamamoto's and Admiral Halsey's contemplations fittingly wind down the dramatic recreation of the shock and surprise of the attack.
There are beautiful scenes of Hawaii, too; indeed, "Pearl" edges out "Tora" only in sunsets. The sea and blue sky, islands and mountains, Hawaiian music at military clubs. The Japanese planes take off in dark early dawn, nice aura, then a striking rising sun precedes beautiful dawn settings and the attack.
Sorry to be so narrative, but to do so is fitting in reviewing this very narrative movie. There are no dash and elan, no good guys or bad guys, and in fact, no protagonists or antagonists. Expressions of anger are not terribly intense and are fleeting, no intense passions are worked up. The closest thing to a hero is Colonel Bratton, whose importunations to accept his warnings are legitimized only too late.
"Tora" turns the trick for viewers with a more straightforward than sensationalistic approach who want to see a good, intelligent story; uncontrived people; an excellent extended battle staging yet no cheap special effects; no blood and gore; good flow. I am a big fan of "Lawrence of Arabia," and tho I ultimately see all its scenes as justified, I admit it had moments of drag, in both the first and second halfs. Some people think "Tora" drags at times, but it never drags for me. Besides, it is much shorter than "Lawrence" and many other epics. Fair enough, some simply do not like this type of movie as much as I do. But the attack on Pearl Harbor itself is one of the most dramatic events in military history and certainly U.S. history, and that helps carry the day. Geopolitics, strategy, unpreparedness, codebreaking issues, miscommunication, before a war, then a sneak attack -- John Wayne not needed.
10 out of 10.
I just finished reading a great book on the history of Japan in the
Second World War, "Rising Sun" by John Toland, and decided to watch
Tora! Tora! Tora! again.
This is a great movie and immaculately accurate down to the last detail, such as how the Japanese trained for the attack on Pearl Harbor at Kagoshima City on Ryukyu Island. The book describes how the pilots in crews of three, zoomed down over the mountains behind the city, over the pier, and dropped torpedoes at a breakwater 300 yards away. The movie had all these details. Throughout, it was accurate even down to the exact wording of communications and quotes from the various people involved.
I loved how the Japanese directed the Japanese parts and vice versa for the Americans. It really told both sides of the story.
Technically as a film though, it has limitations. Some of the models used are kind of cheesy, but some are actually pretty good. But hey, it was 1970, this is before Star Wars even. And a lot of the acting is pretty wooden.
If you're looking for great special effects, and not much substance, see Pearl Harbor. If you're interested in the story, the "why", and figures involved in this historic event, definitely see Tora! Tora! Tora!.
Better yet, read the book I referenced above - it won the Pulitzer Prize and you won't be able to put it down - and you will be spellbound by this movie knowing all the background and reasons for the Japanese attack, and all the details about the characters.
In pure movie terms, this film is pretty light. As a historical drama
it is almost perfect. Based on Gordon Prange's book of the same name,
the film draws on Prange's 30 years of official USN research to draw
some interesting and thought-provoking questions about the mistakes
made by both sides in the lead up to the Japanese attack on Pearl
For the history buffs it even raises some questions which are not part of most people's understanding of how and why it happened the way it did. For the general public it puts all the basic points of the attack into one neat, interesting package. Some characters have been combined and events changed slightly to aid production but nothing of any real significance is altered.
The Japanese sequences were originally intended to be directed by the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa but when the producers realised that those parts alone made up four hours of screen time, the trouble started and Kurosawa was replaced. The acting is solid but unremarkable, as one would expect from a film of this type.
The battle sequences are, for the most part, beautifully done. The producers spent cubic dollars converting old trainers to look like Japanese fighter and attack aircraft and succeeded brilliantly. Only the real oficianados can tell them apart. The flying is fantastic and it looks brilliant against the Hawaiian scenery.
About the only thing missing, and probably a salient reason for its lack of real commercial penetration, was the lack of a love angle.
By contrast, it is amazing to me that "Pearl Harbor", made some 30 years later, was so bad in comparison. Had the producers actually watched this film before making such a turkey, they might have actually learned something. "Tora, Tora, Tora!" is a film which could be shown to any history class with few concerns as to its authenticity. "Pearl Harbor" should never be shown again.
Considering the amount of information which had to be conveyed in such a small amount of screen time, "Tora, Tora, Tora!" is remarkably successful.
I'll begin my review of Tora! Tora! Tora! by quoting several negative
lines from other reviews on here....
1. It's just that it takes too long getting there. I've never before been in the position of wanting American ships to hurry up and sink; it meant the movie would be over that much faster.
2. This movie had great actors, was shot on location for much of it and contained some very interesting history. However, it wasn't a great film, rather it was pretty flat for the first hour and a half.
3. It went into too much detail.
4. Tora! Tora! Tora! is three parts boring history and one part action movie.
End of quotes.
One of Hollywood's greatest problems in making historically accurate films is, many viewers have the attention span of a three-year-old. If they can't stomach an hour or two of history in a film I'd hate to see how they'd handle reading a book.
Tora! Tora! Tora! is a masterpiece in film making. The events leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor are just as important as the attack itself. Without the former you can't have the latter. If you enjoy history and don't need events to happen right this instant, it's a must see.
Some of you younger movie-goers, may only know of "Pearl Harbor".
If you want to have the actual story of what "really" happened on December 1941, then you have to go back to this movie made in 1970.
"Tora! Tora! Tora!" is a vision from both sides of the coin, not just the American one.
"Pearl Harbor" is more a love story in its context and has only one vision, the unilateral and unnecessary patriotic American one. This is not history as it should be told.
"Tora! Tora! Tora!" was the codename given by the Japanese fleet to its carrier pilots to start the attack on Pearl Harbor.
This is far less a shooting war movie, than an actual historic recreation of facts happening on a certain month, week, day and moment in 1941.
Everything is told, from the bureaucracy involved (slow at that, as usual), to the actual military decisions on both sides and on the ground.
The attack, when it comes, is a majestic recreation that, once watched side by side with the actual documentary footage available, makes you realize that were it in black & white, one could not distinguish its differences. That's how accurate it is!
Expenses were not spared at all in doing this recreation. The aircraft used are all faithful reconstructions (a rarity!).
All the actors involved (American and Japanese) have played their roles with outmost accuracy and sense of drama.
The watcher is taken in and left wondering "what next", even if he already knows the story. Not a moment passes in boredom.
This is another fine movie I would recommend for schools and war museums.
It is a movie for thinkers, not warmungers, and it is certainly not one for those who always love to wave flags around.
In other words, this is history, told at its best.
While not every detail is perfect, I really appreciate how the makers
of some historical movies try very, very hard to get it right. In
contrast, many war films (such as "Midway") are shoddy when it comes to
the details--such as using stock footage of planes or tanks which
didn't even debut until well after the battle. And, very, very few war
films try to explain the events leading up to it. This drives
ex-history teachers like me nuts! However, "Tora! Tora! Tora!" is an
amazing film because they tried so hard and the film feels so complete.
Of course the filmmakers had to make a few adjustments--such as
converting American T-6 airplanes to look a lot like Japanese planes
and recreating Japanese ships because they'd all been lost during WWII.
But they TRIED--and I appreciate that. And again and again, the film
stresses details--details that might bore some viewers but make history
So why am I giving this movie a 10? After all, I almost never give such a score to a movie. In addition to the two huge pluses above, the movie excels because it does not burden itself with superfluous love stories (such as in "The Battle of Britain") nor does it give way to sentiment. It is almost like an actual recreation of events as they unfolded-- brought to the big screen in epic fashion. All in all, probably the best war film of all time because of its attention to detail, scope and accuracy.
Apparently, Roger Ebert HATED this film for the reasons I loved it. He hated the detail and wanted to have the characters fleshed out more-- like a typical Hollywood production. I didn't mind its documentary-like style and as a certifiable history nut, it's the sort of film I adore!
Interest in this film has obviously risen since the the release of the
recent 'Pearl Harbour', and comparisions are unavoidable. While I'm not
going enter into another round of 'Pearl Harbour' bashing (it is, after all
a rather spectacular piece of rubbish!), it must be said that 'Tora Tora
Tora!' is a far superior piece of film making. featuring battle scenes that
would reappear in countless WWII war movies.
Aimed at a mature and intelligent audience, Tora Tora Tora is the definitive account of America's entry into WWII, and does, to its credit, show the Japanese reasons for the assault. It's near, documentary style may not appeal to the modern 'MTV' style viewer, but keeps your interest throughout. A ominous tension builds slowly, prior to the assault that is well delivered.
A excellent epic, from a generation of films that it is unlikely will ever be produced again.
A fascinating film - and remarkably even-handed for a World War II epic. Pearl Harbour is shown as an American debacle, and a terrible Japanese mistake. Having read a number of books on the subject ("Day of Infamy", "At Dawn We Slept" etc.) I believe this is the most accurate depiction of the events. There is an incredible tension in watching fallible human beings - not plastic heroes - cope with momentous events. In some ways it reminded me of "13 Days"(2000), but without it's successful conclusion. Richard Fleischer has had a spotty career but this is one of his best, combining his documentary-realistic style (as in "The Boston Strangler"(1968), "Compulsion"(1959), "10 Rillington Place" (1971))and his taste for spectacle (as in "The Vikings" (1958)). Fukasaku"s work I am not so familiar with, but it can be compared to sympathetic treatments of the Imperial Army by other Japanese directors- Ichikawa's "Harp of Burma"(1956) and Kobayashi's "The Human Condition"(1959). There are a number of British and American war films that attempt to show the Japanese troops as more than "Tojo and his band of bug-eyed monkeys" (a quote from a John Wayne film), such as Lean's "Bridge on the River Kwai"(1957), John Boorman's "Hell in the Pacific"(1968), and Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun"(1987).Just as "TTT" was criticised for it's even-handed approach, so too were these films. Here in Australia, the Pacific War also causes much angry debate, mainly due to the Australian POW's who died in Japanese captivity, & the Japanese bombing of Darwin (our Pearl Harbour). I think "TTT" was unpopular at the time for another important reason. "TTT" was a film about an unprepared world power - the USA - being defeated by an underestimated and implacable Asian foe in a daring sneak attack. "TTT" was released 2 years after the Tet Offensive (1968) in the Vietman War, and must have seemed uncomfortably close to home. Hollywood in the late 1960'& early 1970's, shied away from films depicting the Vietnam War (too divisive, too downbeat, too controversial etc.), but were OK on films set in another time tackling similar themes and questions. Films that are obvious metaphors for Vietnam include: Altman's "MASH"(1970)(Korean War as Vietnam War); Penn's "Little Big Man"(1970)(Washita River as My Lai, Little Big Horn as the Tet Offensive); Robert Wise'"Sand Pebbles"(1966)(1920's China as Vietnam); Ralph Nelson's "Soldier Blue"(1970)(Indian Wars as Vietnam) and even British films like Tony Richardson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade"(1968)(Crimean War as Vietnam). I guess people can only watch so much defeat, which is why "Patton"(1970) was welcomed. Even though it begins with an American catastrophe (Kasserine Pass), it ends in victory.
It takes three directors and almost two and a half hours to present one of if not the best film concerning the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor thus causing the U.S. to enter WWII. Taut, tense and unbelievable depiction of the dramatic attack on that fateful December morning in 1941. This movie leaves a lot to be desired as far as a strong story line goes; but the whole focal point is the Oscar winning special effects. An all-star ensemble cast features: Jason Robards Jr, Martin Balsam, So Yamamura, Joseph Cotten, E.G. Marshall and James Whitmore. Forget the rest...this is really the best.
I haven't seen this movie is years. I actually have it on DVD and never watched it. But Fox played a few war movies on Veterens Day and I watched it again. First I love war movies. Not the soapy Pearl Harbor type movies, but a real nuts and bolts war movie. On seeing this movie for a second time a I noticed a lot of things I didn't see the first time. Little thing like the submarine trying to sneak into Pearl Harbor and how our ship saw it and blew it up. I never knew that happened. And the aftermath in which a call is made to the base commander and all he can say is ask for confirmation because these things happen all of the time. I wanted to smack him. It is incredible how a lot of middle men actually prevented word about the attack getting to the right person. Such as the guys who pick up a plane formation heading for Pearl Harbor and the men who received the message just brushing it off, and not conveying it to the correct person. Or how the Wesley Addy character had to run around DC trying to talk to anyone who would listen to no avail. Or the man who has direct access t the Commanders after getting concrete evidence and decides not to call the commander at Pearl Harbor but wants to run it by the President first. It is amazing how middlings actually held the fate of PearL Harbor in their hands and blew it. I also admire way they show the Japanese perspective. I love movies like that because it shows that the other side are soldiers like we are and are committed to their cause too, right or wrong. It humanizes them as it should. All Quiet in The Western Front was one of my favorite novels and movies because it was told through the eyes of a very young German recruit. I see how they are all psyched into going to war as they do here to young men and when they fight they see this is not what they signed up for. There was no side stories, thank you, because they ruin all war movies. This is a very good war movie. And it gave us a inside view of the steps leading to the Attack. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to see good movie about Pearl Harbor without an foolish love story or side stories.
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