Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
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"Tora! Tora! Tora!" meticulously traces the build-up to Pearl Harbor by examining the diplomatic, military and intelligence events and developments on both sides. The film is unimpeachably even-handed, telling both sides' stories simultaneously, and interleaving the Japanese and American versions with intelligence and an almost total absence of jingoism.
Japan's warmongers considered their country to be trapped by history and geography. As the industrial nations surged forward in terms of prosperity and military might, Japan was in danger of being outstripped, having few natural resources of her own. If Japan was to compete with the USA and USSR, she would have to 'reach out' for the raw materials available in southern Asia and the Pacific, but this would mean confronting the USA, the great maritime power in the Pacific.
The film explains all this very well. We learn that the Japanese have an age-old tradition of striking against their enemies without warning, and that air superiority is the new doctrine. The brilliant Japanese planners such as Genda (played by Tatsuya Mihashi) have grasped the lessons of the European war and know the vital importance of naval air power. By 1941, battleships have become a liability - slow, lumbering dinosaurs which invite attack and cannot defend themselves against aircraft. The way forward is mobile air power, and that means aircraft carriers. If the Japanese can catch the American carriers at Pearl Harbor and destroy them, then the war will be won before it has properly started.
The Americans take a fateful decision to send out their carriers on reconnaissance missions. This strips Pearl Harbor of protection, but paradoxically ensures that Japan cannot win the war - no matter how spectacular the success of the surprise attack, the mission will fail if the US aircraft carriers survive.
Throughout the build-up, the Japanese navy chiefs such as Yamamoto (So Yamomura) have a snippet of classical Japanese poetry on their minds: "If all men are brothers, why are the winds and the waves so restless?" They take this to mean that it is the rule of nature for man to attack his fellow man. By the end of the film, Yamamoto has abandoned this view and now believes that "We have aroused a sleeping giant, and filled him with a terrible resolve."
The film catalogues the accidents and mistakes which combined to make Pearl Harbor a worse disaster for the USA than it need have been. American aircraft are bunched together in the middle of the airfield in order to reduce the risk of sabotage near the perimeter fence, but this helps the Japanese bombers to destroy them on the ground. Radar equipment cannot be placed in the best locations to give early warning, and in any event the radar data are misinterpreted when they predict the attack. Because the attack falls on a weekend, it is difficult for middle-ranking officers to contact military and political chiefs, and the contingency plans are inadequate. Radio Honolulu broadcasts through the night to guide a fleet of B-17's to Hawaii, inadvertently acting as a navigation beacon for the Japanese warplanes.
If the painstaking build-up to the attack is a little slow and ponderous, it is certainly epic in scale, and when the action erupts it comes as a mighty climax. The tension is palpable as the Japanese planes take off from their carriers, black against the ominous dawn. What follows is a breath-taking cinematic coup as Pearl Harbor is ravaged.
Verdict - A historical account of almost documentary accuracy culminates in vivid action scenes. A marvellous film.
Whether you want to waste time seeing Brucheimer and Bay's self-indulgently long PEARL HARBOR with its totally extraneous fictional romance -- that's up to you. But whether you see it or not, the real history of the human stupidity on both sides of the Pacific that created the attack is clearly portrayed in TORA! TORA! TORA!
The new DVD edition has insightful commentary by the director plus a documentary about the attack. This film is tensely paced and displays and excellent cast. The Jerry Goldsmith score is kept to a minimum but is very effective. The special FX for the attack are all the more impressive considering they were done before the advent of computer generated FX such as those in PEARL HARBOR -- and they equal those of PEARL HARBOR.
If you want to know the real story, see this film and then also check out the companion stories in FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, DESTINATION TOKYO, and THIRTY SECONDS OVER TOKYO.
Throughout this well done production, the story in true chronological sequence shifts between the two opposing sides with full subtitles giving the role played by each leading actor.
The viewer is given a clear concise unfolding of events with the part of the code-breakers importantly emphasized.
The attack is quite breathtaking in parts with several scenes closely resembling or being actual footage taken.
Ironically the breaking of the Japanese naval code by U.S. Intelligence gave the Americans every opportunity to correctly contemplate the next move of their adversary, but a desire for utmost secrecy by the Roosevelt Administration and the top brass of the Navy and Army restricted the transmission of clear and proper communications necessary for the Pearl Harbor commanders, Admiral Kimmel and General Short to make sound objective judgments regarding their respective commands.
Both men were treated shabbily by their superiors in the aftermath of the attack, were relieved of their command, and for decades thereafter had to endure the shame and responsibility placed on them in allowing this occurrence to happen.
This movie does a lot to exonerate them from their part in this terrible disaster.
P.S. I had the great honor of meeting bugler Richard Fiske personally, (USS West Virginia) with a colleague of mine when we visited Pearl Harbor in March 1997, (plus autograph),and had our photo taken with him. It is one of my enduring photos of this great sailor who gave his time unselfishly as a volunteer survivor, at the base, to give two second generation Australians the respect of knowing that we met a man who belonged to a nation which contributed to the success of winning the Pacific War.
It continues to be a source of total wonder for me that _Tora! Tora! Tora!_, a movie made nearly thirty-two years ago, is so expertly presented. The reason for this is twofold: usage of lesser-known character actors to keep plot distraction to a minimum, and the usage of vintage working ships and aircraft to keep the realism to a maximum. These two elements merge together to produce what amounts to a cameraman in a time machine filming the actual events on site.
Since this was a collaborative effort between both US and Japanese film studios, the numerous switches between scenes will give you a good look at the differences between directing (and acting) styles. I am constantly amazed at the boldness of the content for a film released in the US during the Vietnam War, and only 25 years after the Pearl Harbor attack itself; compared to the rather wooden Martin Balsam and Jason Robards, Takahiro Tamura's Lt. Commander Fuchida is replete with a charisma I would never have expected from The Enemy. The Japanese side of the tale is laid before you so well that one is sent into the minds of the people involved, a rarity for American war films. (Sometimes it goes a little bit over the edge -- Admiral Yamamoto's comment "I know [the Americans] are a proud and just people" is a mistranslation -- but the general mood is accurately conveyed overall.)
And then there is the beautiful and sometimes chilling scenery. The attack scenes themselves are eye-popping and brazen enough -- an awesome effort given the technology of the period -- but my personal favorite scene is the Japanese lead strike force's departure from their aircraft carrier. Those of you who purchase the DVD version of the movie should crank up the volume at this point. This is a piece of film that most probably can never be shot again: REAL aircraft flooring their REAL engines and taking flight from a REAL ship of war, against the backdrop of the early dawn, one after another, until the sky is alive with what looks like waves and waves of warplanes. Although the aircraft and ships used were modifed American stock, the flags, uniforms, and color schemes are all authentic... resulting in a spine-tingling spectacle of Japanese pilots plunging headlong into what was ultimately a disastrous mistake. They are depicted as human beings, as they should be.
It is an astoundingly accurate presentation of a dark moment in history for both the US and Japan, free of pretense, pandering to the audience, big-bucks megastars, lovey-dovey sappiness, and computer-generated pixels. You don't *need* any of these things to create a fantastic movie; all you need is history, which we all know is stranger -- and scarier, and more engaging -- than fiction. _Tora! Tora! Tora_ should be in every movie fan's library.
Speaking personally, the attack in the film sounded real, though our mother kept me and my sister inside for much of the attack (we had to go outside to get evacuated from our quarters).
But that aside: the film mirrors historic events closely. However, (possibly a minor spoiler or two follow) there were some little points that had been added for the audience's sake.
The MAGIC machine, which was breaking the Japanese PURPLE cipher, did not have to be explained to either officer, but one did, so the audience would get the drift of what was happening. (The actual machine was the greatest cryptological feat of World War II, greater than Enigma, because it was developed from scratch by Frank Rowlett under the direction of William Friedmann.) The film was based in large part from the books of Professor Gordon W. Prenge, an historian who specialized in Pearl Harbor. Prenge interviewed many of the principals in the action, on both sides, and became friends with several.
This is the best film on Pearl Harbor. I got tapes for my mother and sister, both of whom shared my reaction to it.
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!
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.
Our Far eastern foreign policy from then until 1941 was simply trading concessions with both Asian powers, Japan and China. When they became rivals in Asia we and other countries had to choose up sides. Alternately we favored China and Japan, but in 1941 U.S. sympathies in Washington and in public opinion was favoring China.
The island chain of Japan is notoriously lacking in natural resources. Even the United Kingdom which it is often compared to has deposits of coal and iron and that created the British steel industry. Japan has to import and in the age of imperialism, they became every bit as imperialistic as any of our western countries, maybe more so because their need was greater.
Note during the film of Tora Tora Tora it is remarked that the U.S. Fleet in Hawaii was like a dagger pointed at Japan. When the island country of Hawaii was formally annexed to the United States and the Phillipines acquired after the Spanish American War at the end of the 19th century we became rivals in the Pacific to the Japanese. And imagine if the Japanese who were most anxious to annex Hawaii themselves had done so. The dagger would have been at our West Coast. Of course the poor Hawaiians had little to say about any of this.
All that has to be factored into what you are seeing in Tora Tora Tora. That and more is what led up to the events that are meticulously recorded in documentary style. Unlike the later film Midway which spoiled a good account of the battle with a personal story, Tora Tora Tora does not waste any of the viewers time in that regard.
The participants are there in all their flaws. Admiral Husband Kimmel who made the fortunate choice of sending out the aircraft carriers which was an act that may have eventually won the Pacific War for America is played by Martin Balsam. Nevertheless he took the fall for the attack as did Chief of Naval Operations Harold Stark played by Edward Andrews.
One very luckless man was Army commander in Hawaii General Joseph Short played by Jason Robards, Jr. who was in real life in the Navy and at Pearl Harbor. Short made the fatal decision to put all the aircraft at Hickam field in the center of the field because he was afraid of saboteurs. The better to bomb them from the air.
Three members of FDR's cabinet are portrayed, George MacReady as Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Joseph Cotten as Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, and Leon Ames as Frank Knox the Secretary of the Navy. Franklin Roosevelt being the wise leader he was and knowing that our eventual entry demanded bipartisan support chose a pair of Republicans in Stimson and Knox. Would that our current president had that kind of foresight.
George MacReady who usually portrayed polished villains is a good guy here and has one of his best screen moments as the Japanese envoys are ushered into his office AFTER the attack has begun to issue Japanese diplomatic demands.
Tora Tora Tora should be shown in schools as a great piece of well acted documentary film making if that's not a contradiction in terms. It won an Oscar for Special Effects which are out of date compared to the later Pearl Harbor movie, but still done well. Catch it if you can by all means.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"Tora" does not mean "kill" in Japanese. It means "Tiger" (Prange, Gordon W.,"At Dawn We Slept", New York: Putnam, 1981.)
This movie was one of the better dramatizations of the Pearl Harbor debacle, focusing more on the miscommunications and errors in judgment shown by the military leadership in Hawaii. Also covered is the pure luck the Japanese First Air Fleet had. Left out, mostly because it had not yet become publicly available, was the information that the White House, the State Department, and the upper echelons of the military kept from Admiral Kimmel and Lieutenant General Short. Both of these men were made scapegoats for failing to protect their commands from attack, while being deprived of the information they really needed to do so. (Stinnett, Robert B. "Day of Deceit", New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000.)
Still, this is a vastly better movie than the recent farce made by Michael Bay. It was no more an accurate portrayal of Pearl Harbor than Ghostbusters was factual.
The acting on both sides, Japanese and American is top rate. They just don't make them like Martin Balsam and Jason Robards any more - both give top performances.
The non-CGI effects are amazing once the action gets underway - some of the stunt men look in genuine danger as they escape the flames and explosions.
Forget 2001's Pearl Harbor which was a turkey by any stretch of the imagination - this is the definitive 7th December 1941 movie.
I have seen several movies about the attack on Pearl Harbor. There is PEARL HARBOR (which is a piece of crap), IN HARM'S WAY, and FROM HERE TO ETERNITY. There is even a Pearl Harbor sequence in THE WINDS OF WAR. These latter three movies are good, in fact I have DVDs of IN HARM'S WAY and FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, as well as TORA TORA TORA. But this is by far the best of the lot and it gives you the straight scoop without any politically correct BS thrown in. One emerges from this film emotionally drained, as you feel the fury of watching our airplanes getting bombed while trying to take off. Your heart aches as you watch a lone American airplane in a dogfight with a whole squadron of Japanese fighter planes. An excellent film. 10 out of 10. I don't give that lightly, either. By the way, check out the cinematography as the Japanese planes take off from their aircraft carrier. It is absolutely beautiful watching the sun rise while those planes are taking off one by one.
Historical accuracy is very important. And that is where Tora! succeeds. The film provides a factual, chronological account of the day of Infamy. The story follows faithfully to the events (from both American and Japanese perspectives) that unfolded in a straightforward (but sometimes boring) manner. Another major factor is the focus. Tora! does not dwell on distracting subplots, such as a love story, to move the film along. The slow pacing of the film in the first half needs improvement though.
While none of the extensive cast gives a stellar display, the technical aspects of the film surely steal the show. With visual effects still in its infancy, the recreation of the actual attack on Pearl Harbour can be summarized in one word - 'Spectacular!'. Realistic (although less exciting than Michael Bay's version) and absorbing enough to make any viewer gaze in awe, and admire how filmmakers could achieve that much in the early 1970s. Tora! Tora! Tora! is an understated film that is better than the sum of its parts.
SCORE: 8.5/10 (www.filmnomenon.blogspot.com) All rights reserved!