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!