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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This is one of my all-time favorite war pictures. It is really the show of
Martin Balsam, Jason Robards and the actor who plays Admiral Yamamoto.
Though it has a strong, star-studded supporting cast; the scenario centres
around the relationship of these three characters in the famous historical
event. Oh, and the involvement of the intelligence code-breaking characters
represented by E G Marshall and Wesley Addy is also involving.
The reason this story comes alive I think is the way the scenes are given some human personality. These include General Short muttering about the "Wildlife Preservation Society", the flying school segment, and the navy officer who comments on a low-flying Japanese fighter that he's going to report it for "safety violations". The scene where a telegraph officer glares at an Asian-descended messenger boy is also very poignant. They certainly knew how to tell stories back then! All in all, an effective dramatization.
Movies like TTT have just been waiting for DVD to come along. The movie's epic scope and music can now be enjoyed on TV presentation, but even more significantly, you can listen to the "history" featurette and especially the director's commentary (it does take some fortitude to sit through this very long movie twice, but it is worth it). You will learn that Akira Kurosawa was the original director of the Japanese scenes, and why he was fired (there are several really amusing/telling anecdotes here). TTT stands up to the passage of time, because it so consistently presents itself as docudrama. I recently rented The Guns of Navarone, on a nostalgia kick, and could barely sit through it, though I thought I remembered liking it when it first came out. The special effects were terrible, the acting was overwrought, the big scene where the traitor is revealed (literally) now lacks punch, etc. But TTT's action sequences are as good as anything you see today, and really better, because what you see on film REALLY HAPPENED (planes explode, shoot machine guns, etc.). The even-handed moral tone is actually quite refreshing, portraying the Japanese military characters in a reasonably realistic and sympathetic manner. The American characters appear quite flat (compare TTT to Thirteen Days, for instance), but you can't have everything. Last but not least, this is a movie which you can sit down with your teen or even younger son and watch. It's a history lesson which will provoke questions from the teens and force you to provide thoughtful explanations back.
This 1970 movie is a must see. I saw Pearl Harbor (PH) today, May 25 2001 the opening day in Atlanta.( I wrote a review of it as well)However Tora, Tora, Tora(TTT) is different kind of film. It has no romance. It has no CGI computer animation. It does have super special effects, even by today's standards. In many ways it is much more dramatic than PH. PH is supposed to be a summer blockbuster, with stars and drama. TTT is straight forward action. Ironically it's cast is composed of far more stars! There are loads of of them but none are the "star" of the movie. In TTT the action leading up to and the actual event is the star. TTT follows the mistakes and errors that lead up to America being caught by surprise on December 7th. In many ways TTT is much more dramatic and tension building than PH. Clearly Japanese Admiral Yamamotto's quote "I fear all we have done is awaken a sleeping giant" is more poinently presented in TTT. In TTT Yamamottos line is then followed by him saying " and all we have done is fill him with terrible resolve". This second line is excluded in PH for some reason. Rent TTT, in the widescreen edition if you can. It is worth it.
The film score reaches a fever pitch halfway through the movie. It reaches it's fullest potential when RUFUS BRATTON is running around washington trying to warn people about the impending attack. Then there is a closeup to a desk calendar with DECEMBER 7 1941 written on it, from this point forward the music matches the building up for the final attack and matches the events in the movie. Prior to this the film score is slower as the events take shape...once the attack surfaces the film and it's score move at break neck speed. This in addition to PATTON and the PLANET OF THE APES are the finest scores by Goldsmith....but can anything match the fading trumpets in Patton? The soundtrack to TORA TORA TORA is a little pricey but once I get some spare change I may pick up a copy.
The film TORA TORA TORA is quite a achievement. No japanese aircraft survived the war so the aircraft used in the film were modified to be exact look-a-likes for WW2 japanese planes. (ie. the Zeros were remodified T6 Texans) There were other breathtaking things like mockups of the Battleship Yamato and U.S. battleships of the era. The film portrayed both sides of the conflict and their various perspectives. The Japanese were portrayed as human beings and not the "slant eyed monsters" from the days of JOHN WAYNE's WW2 movies. The film was a joint american/japanese production...which was unusual for it's time. There was a great deal of detail that went into this film, that previous productions like FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (both versions) lacked. TORA TORA TORA was also the last of the great aviation war epics (ie. THE BLUE MAX, BATTLE OF BRITAIN, etc.) produced by the big studios. (sorry, 1976's MIDWAY does not count!) Of note is the fact that JASON ROBARDS starred in this film....Jason Robards was a veteran of this very attack in real life.
I do not wish to be redundant and re-state all the fine things other
reviewers have said about this dramatic film, nor will I summarize the
history of how WW II began for America, although with the dearth of history
in U.S. public schools maybe I should. But they can read the other reviews.
I want to add here that this was a fine film of a great and terrible event,
and certain aspects stand out for me.
The very professional Japanese Navy was depicted accurately and with deserved respect. The internal conflicts within it between carrier and battleship advocates was also shown, as was Jap. admiral Nagumo's lack of decisiveness and rigidity in not launching a second wave to knock out the U.S. dry docks and oil storage facilities on Oahu island.
The responsibility for the surprise in Washington was left unclear (it still is to large degree), although the film does tend to the accumulation of bad luck hypothesis rather than a diabolical plot. The inclusion of FDR (not in the movie) would have been inappropriate: it would have been a distracting impression and he was not directly involved in the operations - unless you believe FDR was diabolically pulling all the strings behind the scenes!
The battle scenes were quite good, but the USAAF did not just have P-40 fighters in Hawaii, the only fighter depicted in the movie. The planes used to depict Zero fighters looked nothing like the real Japanese fighters (I guess it couldn't be helped). The capsizing of the USS Oklahoma was not shown, nor were there any good full shots of US battleships; I suppose that too couldn't be helped, but it was vexing. The destruction of the USS Arizona was well done. These are of course minor complaints.
I also wish the cast was a little stronger, and characters like Yamamoto and US Adm Kimmel, whose career ended after the attack, were better drawn. The film covered so much territory that many characters seem to be superficial. But that too is a minor complaint. I saw this movie initially at a packed large theater in Times Square and there was great reaction and involvement by the audience. It's a heck of a movie, and I just wish that "Midway" was made in a similar style with Japanese characters portrayed by Japanese actors speaking Japanese, not American actors of Japanese descent speaking English!
This is one of very few war movies I've seen that depicts the Japanese as
smart, disciplined military professionals -- indeed as anything other than
stereotypical one-dimensional cannon fodder.
thousands of Pacific veterans can attest, they were serious, committed
warriors, not cartoon characters.
The World War Two generation in America regarded Pearl Harbor as a dastardly event, a sneak attack that was ethically the lowest of deeds. It contrasted sharply American ideal of fair play (a fatal liability in combat, an ugly truth that's seldom depicted or discussed in films and literature of and about the period) and fed the vehemence of the American people's "terrible resolve," as Yamamoto put it. That Japanese, a race too many Americans regarded with fear and suspicion, had accomplished it, further fueled American fury and determination.
But militarily the Japanese were doing what historically they do best: striking without warning to catch the adversary off guard and, if possible, defeat him with one decisive masterstroke. If you're from another country, or if you're an American able to put your cultural baggage aside for the duration of the film, you gain a grim appreciation of just what a tatical masterpiece Pearl Harbor was, and how quickly the Japanse realized their strategic failure.
Watching this film, you also glimpse how forward-thinking the Japanese were in naval developments, grasping the potential of naval air power over battleships. (It's little known that in 1941, Japan's navy, particularly their naval air force, excelled America's in quality and quantity.) Even more, you discover how constrained Yamamoto's opportunities were. He was essentially reduced to doing the Army's bidding rather than projecting power as a true blue-water naval force should, and he knew full well that against the might of America, the best he could do was to buy Japan a little time.
To watch the Japanese cast members portray their roles is to see a valuable window on the Japanese warrior ethos in particular and Japanese culture in general. For the Japanese, Pearl Harbor was the largest diplomatic and military gamble ever undertaken. Its enormity manifests in the Japanese Navy officer corps' tension and emotion in scenes of planning and executing the strike. This tremendous acting is easily lost in visual translation for many Westerners, but it's palpable for those more familiar with the Japanese.
"Tora! Tora! Tora!" is not exactly a great film. Mediocre acting and
script. However, it contains one of the greatest battle scenes ever
shot on film, if not the greatest. It's a treat for war film lovers to
watch. I still find the simulation of the Pearl Harbor attack to be a
totally mesmerizing spectacle.
This film is done before CGI, which the vastly inferior "Pearl Harbor" used ad nauseum. This fact makes this film much more amazing. (This film must cost 300 million to make nowadays!)
The only bad battle scene in this movie is the bombing of Arizona, in which you can tell the ship is floating on a bath tub. But other than that, you'll be hard-pressed not to say, "Wow!"
In absolutely every respect this movie is far superior to "Pearl Harbor" of
a few years ago. Rather than using the pending Japanese attack as the
backdrop for a fictional romance, "Tora Tora Tora" faithfully recounts the
events leading up to December 7, 1941, and then offers a chilling portrayal
of the attack itself. In spite of being over 30 years old, the effects used
during the attack scenes are excellent, and create the feeling that one is
right there as they happen. The performances are solid although
unspectacular, which seems appropriate. Clearly the desire of Directors
Richard Fleischer and Kinji Fukasaku was to let the events speak for
themselves, and in this they succeeded.
The movie is told from both the Japanese and American points of view, and one of the better aspects of it was that the scenes on board the Japanese fleet were shot using the Japanese language, rather than having the Japanese speaking English with Japanese accents. I felt that this added to the authenticity of the movie. The confusion, miscommunication and poor preparedness of the U.S. is truthfully recounted, as is the division between the military and political machinery over various issues: the choice of Pearl Harbor as the base for the Pacific Fleet, and the decision to transfer navy resources from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
There are a few scenes that drag. We spent an inordinate amount of time watching Japanese Zeros taking off from the deck of a Japanese carrier and it's somewhat difficult to establish the timeline of the movie, particularly in the first hour or so, but overall this must surely be the definitive movie version of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Everyone interested in the "day that will live in infamy" should watch this.
While "Patton" was the superior WWII film to be released in 1970, "Tora!
Tora! Tora!", a meticulous recreation of the events leading up to, and the
actual attack on Pearl Harbor, is a fine film in its own right and is one of
the best WWII epics. The cast, on both the Japanese and American sides is
excellent, the score by Jerry Goldsmith is powerful, and the special effects
by 1970 standards are quite competent.
I have only one complaint though, and that revolves around the strange decision not to depict Franklin Roosevelt in this film. Many people have said that "Tora" suffered at the box office because it left audiences too depressed upon leaving. This could easily have been rectified had the producers recreated FDR's "Day Of Infamy" speech to Congress and recreated the wild, enthusiastic cheers of a determined America declaring war and vowing revenge and total victory. But Roosevelt is nowhere to be seen in this film, and I don't think there's a legitimate excuse for this.
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