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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.
What is presented are the facts - from both the American and Japanese
perspectives - of what led up to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the
attack itself. It doesn't attempt to add any fictional characters to
the extent that this is possible or add steamy love scenes (2001's
Pearl Harbor, I'm looking at you). The lesson here is never
underestimate your enemy, and how easy that is to do when layers of
bureaucracy are in the way, layers of bureaucracy that just can't
believe that a nation of people that Americans then thought racially
inferior would actually decimate Pearl Harbor to the degree that they
did. Did you realize that in 1941 many Americans thought that Asians
had poor eyesight because of the shapes of their eyes? I didn't learn
that from the film, but it helps explain why so many prewar dramas were
aimed at the Germans while the Japanese were practically ignored.
Central to the plot is that U.S. Army Col. Bratton (E. G. Marshall) and U.S. Navy Lt. Commander Kramer (Wesley Addy) decipher the Japanese Purple Code and from the messages that they intercept, believe that attack is imminent. They pick the wrong week, but they have the right idea. As the warning goes up the chain of command so many things go wrong on the American side. Key generals or people reporting directly to the president are out riding horses or walking their dogs or doing what people do on weekends. Finally, Chief of Naval Operations Harold R. Stark (Edward Andrews) is notified and urged to call Hawaii, but no, he says he wishes to call the president first. He asks everyone to leave the room. After everyone leaves Stark is staring at the phone but it is not clear if he ever called anyone. Why??? Meanwhile, Admiral Kimmel (Martin Balsam) is quite afraid of attack in the months leading up to December 7, but his reaction is counterproductive. He orders all aircraft placed as close together as possible so they can be easily monitored for acts of espionage. That's fine, but it also makes it easy for the Japanese to destroy all of them with a few bombs.
The morning of December 7th, two ordinary soldiers are ordered to be up bright and early to man the new Radar Center that is only operational from 4AM to 7AM. They spot the entire airborne Japanese contingency via their equipment, inform their superiors, but are told it is probably just a malfunction - go have breakfast! And on and on it goes. When the Japanese planes finally do appear over the top of the harbor everyone believes they are American planes until the bombs start dropping.
I haven't mentioned much about the Japanese mistakes, but there were a couple of doozies. The first being that the Japanese - due to a slow typist - did not deliver their ultimatum to the Americans in Washington until AFTER the attack on Pearl Harbor began. The second mistake is mentioned in the final line of the film, delivered by General Yamamoto, whose idea it was to stage this attack in the first place. He mentions that many think that the Americans are soft, that they love only luxury, that they are not hard and war-like as the Japanese are but he mentions he fears "We have only awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve".
Something never mentioned in the film that helps explain some of the inertia on the American side is the anti-war and isolationist sentiment that was prominent in America up to Pearl Harbor itself. WWI was looked back upon as a gigantic waste of time and lives, and America was just emerging from a decade long Depression. Perhaps if Harold Stark never made that phone call it was because he thought that the Japanese dropping a few harmless bombs on Hawaii might get Americans into the fighting frame of mind necessary to fight a two front war. I don't think from anything I've ever read that anybody right up to Roosevelt believed that the Harbor and its contents would be completely destroyed.
If you've never seen it, please do. And realize it was meant to be as close to a documentary of what actually happened as possible. Highly recommended.
Forget the junk movie Pearl Harbor by Jerry Bruckheimer that everyone
keeps comparing to this one. This movie is better in every way,
historically speaking and cinematic. Its acting is better, its accuracy
is better and it's attack scenes are better. Unlike Pearl Harbor, this
needed no computer animation whatsoever. No second is wasted.
Tora! Tora! Tora! is an enjoyable movie even though the Americans seem helpless in the attack. The Japanese just keep bombing and bombing. The explosions in the attack are greatly constructed as are the death scenes of characters. One thing that I like the most about this movie is how it is shown from both point of views.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Tora Tora Tora" is one of the best war movies & historical dramas ever
made. It has the ability to create an incredible tension, as events
leading up to the attack unfold; which is all the more remarkable for a
rather straightforward retelling of a historic event that everyone has
at least a passing familiarity with. "Tora" is actually 2 movies in 1.
The Japanese side, filmed in Japan using Japanese actors & crew, and
the American side. Producer Elmo Williams & director Richard Fleischer
then edited them together, showing the unfolding events as seen from
both Japanese& American eyes.
Reading the backstory of this production, I found out that 20th Century-Fox's Darryl Zanuck had been interested in this project back to the time he made "The Longest Day", but several issues(including Zanuck's celebrated "Cleopatra" that nearly bankrupted the studio) kept it in "project" stage for years. Also, Japan's premier film director Akira Kurosawa (best known for "The Seven Samurai") was originally engaged in writing & directing the Japanese portion. Considering Kurosawa's immense talent, it's odd that reportedly both Richard Zanuck (who took over running Fox from his father) and Elmo Williams were hugely disappointed with the rushes that were arriving from Japan. According to several credible sources, Kurosawa shot hours of footage, but Fox found they couldn't utilize any of it! Apparently Kurosawa was given large reign over writing the Japanese storyline, and took it off in directions Fox didn't like. Finally Kurosawa was fired, and they brought in a couple of journeymen directors to get the story in the can!
One of the things which made for such realism was the Japanese built 2 life-size ship models/sets - of the carrier "Akagi" & the battleship "Nagato" (respectively, Nagumo's and Yamamoto's flagships) for filming key scenes. I've read where these 2 huge models became big tourist attractions while the Japanese sequences were being filmed. They were built right on a beach so that in the distance the ocean would be seen. I've been unable to find out definitively what happened to these giant sets, but I assume they were broken-up after filming was completed. I recall that in an issue of "Sea Classics" magazine after the movie's release it was reported that some of the large models of U.S. battleships used in the filming (in the 25-30 foot range) were being auctioned off. For the USS Arizona, they actually built a full-scale mock-up of the stern of the battleship, which was placed in "battleship row" not far from the Arizona Memorial.
"Tora" also benefited from being made near enough in time to WWII that many old U.S. aircraft could be used in the film, and many old prop trainers were modified to serve as Japanese types. The special effects still hold up rather well, considering this was pre-CGI. I found many of the attack sequences (esp. those on the airbases) more convincing than the CGI used in 2001's "Pearl Harbor"! And, as far as story goes, there's simply no comparison. "Tora!" is realistic, and yet does manage to briefly show the exploits of the 2 real Army Air Force pilots who managed to get airborne and down some Japanese planes (Lts Welch and Taylor). There's no Ben Affleck & Josh Hartnett dogfighting among the battleships' masts or airfield hangers, or playing "chicken" with each other to lead Japanese planes to crashing into one another!
Special credit must go to the "ensemble" character of the cast. Fox avoided making a "spot the star" picture, such as their own "The Longest Day", and concentrated on character and story. Some quality old actors (such as George Macready, Joseph Cotton, and Leon Ames), "secondary types" such as Martin Balsam, Jason Robards, and James Whitmore; and stalwart character actors like E.G. Marshall, Wesley Addy, Frank Aletter, Richard Erdman, Richard Anderson, Neville Brand, and many more. While many of the actors bear no more than a passing resemblance to their real-life counterparts (such as Balsam to Adm. Kimmel), George Macready is very close to Secretary of State Cordell Hull, as are the Japanese actors who play opposite him as Ambassadors Nomura and Kurusu. One of the best-rendered and powerful scenes is where Hull receives the Japanese ambassadors just after he gets word of the Pearl Harbor attack. He gives them an icy dressing-down, then folds his hands and stares down at his desk as the Japanese depart. Another is the much-remembered scene at the end where Admiral Yamamoto points out to his assembled officers that the attack came 55 minutes BEFORE Japan's declaration was delivered in Washington, and tells them that he "fears all they have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve." The movie ends with a somber restating of the main theme, showing a troubled Yamamoto gazing out over the sea, then dissolves to the flaming, smoking wrecks at Pearl Harbor, as the end credits role.
Composer Jerry Goldsmith, one of the true "greats" of Hollywood, must get much credit, as well. Goldsmith was the master of percussion (such as his unusual but effective "Planet of the Apes" score), and used percussion to create a Japanese-themed score that helps build tension. Such music follows intel officers E.G. Marshall and Wesley Addy as they try to get someone in Washington to believe an attack on Pearl Harbor is imminent. No where is Goldsmith's mastery of setting score to scene better displayed than the final scene before intermission, where Adm. Stark (Edward Andrews) is at his desk in Washington, hesitating about whether to phone Hawaii with warning of the attack or not. We hear his desk clock ticking louder and louder as he looks down at his desk calendar with the iconic "Sunday, December 7, 1941" date, and Goldsmith adds strings, which joins with clock ticks, steadily rising to a crescendo. One of the last chances to warn the Navy in Hawaii is draining away. Dynamite filmmaking and film scoring!
A Veteran's Day tribute - the war in the Pacific.
We tend to think of the Ben Affleck vehicle when we think of Pearl Harbor, but war is not about love stories. It is about death and destruction, and there is no greater story about such destruction than this one.
It was a brilliant military move made in an atmosphere where no one could believe it was happening. It was great strategy among a comedy of errors. And, as Admiral Yamamoto predicted, "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."
Directed by Richard Fleisher, who gave us Soylent Green; and by multiple award winning Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku, this film is characterized by excellence in Special visual effects, art direction, editing, sound and cinematography.
It is an excellent film all around.
Interesting film details(from a joint American & Japanese perspective)
the tragic decisions and missed opportunities that led Japanese forces
to launch an unprovoked attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
This was a risky move, since many potential veterans in the audience
may not care to see the Japanese POV(though to be fair, the reverse
could be true). This film presents a balanced viewpoint, so I didn't
detect any sort of bias, since this was presented by both an American
and Japanese co-directors.
Good cast includes Martin Balsam and James Whitmore, and the attack itself is impressively mounted and compelling. Not as emotionally moving as one would like, since it presents the events in a matter-of-fact-manner, but results still work in this worthwhile film.
This film accurately depicts the lead up to and attack on Pearl Harbor. The scale of the sets and intensity of the battle sequence stands well the test of time. Although the 2001 film Pearl Harbor had better visual effects the accuracy of Tora Tora Tora has no equal. The presentation of both sides of the battle adds to the depth of this film, allowing us to see both the Japanese motivations for the attack and American confidence that Pearl Harbor was beyond Japan's reach. Unlike many historical dramas that mix fictional characters into an actual event, this movie presents only real life persons giving a almost documentary feel within the film itself. Anyone who enjoys the World War II era will enjoy this film. It can be watched with younger audiences as well since the level of violence does not depict the level gore associated with many war films such as Saving Private Ryan, and Full Metal Jacket.
A great, epic-feeling film which carefully traces the build up to one
of the most famous events in the history of war: the surprise attack by
the Japanese on the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Forget
PEARL HARBOR, TORA! TORA! TORA! is the real deal, a definitive
retelling which makes all other versions of the story completely
Be warned: this is a real slow-burner of a film, with lots of politics and bureaucracy and stuffy guys in suits chatting together in rooms. It's worth persevering with, though, because the pay-off, when it happens in the final hour, is well worth the wait. You can see why this film was so expensive to make, because much of the attack is done for real, with real planes throughout and real stuff blowing up. Even the use of miniatures is unobtrusive when it does happen.
To be fair, the cast don't have a great deal to work with: it's one of those ensemble productions where there are a few too many characters and none of them have time to make much of an impact. So if you're a fan of Martin Balsam, Joseph Cotten et al, don't go into this expecting to see much of their work. In fact, the Japanese actors feel like they're the ones giving more naturalistic performances throughout as they get a chance to be more emotive.
I especially like the way that the film slowly reveals a catalogue of errors on the part of the Americans, as the viewer gradually becomes aware that the attack wouldn't have been quite so unexpected had earlier signs and warnings been heeded. Altogether it's a great movie, one that rewards close attention with a fantastic pay-off.
This movie has many great strengths. The photography and music are
great, and the battle scenes are authentic. The fact that both sides
cooperated in his making give it total historical accuracy. It does not
take the truth and corrupt it , as the overblown Pearl Harbor does,
inventing a romance and inflating the Dorie Miller story so that Cuba
Gooding Jr. could have more to do. The actors look like military
people, not like the ones in Pearl Harbor who probably never served,
unlike Jason Robards, who plays Gen. Short and was a actually a Pearl
Harbor survivor, and Neville Brand, who plays Lt. Kennedy, and was a
highly decorated WW 2 combat soldier.
The build-up to the attack is long, what might say too long, and absolutely accurate, but it does slow down the movie. Unlike Pearl Harbor the movie which focused on three main characters, Tora, Tora, Tora gives a bigger canvas but does not leave us with any memorable performances. So in many ways, its strengths could be also classified as weaknesses. If you want to see one movie to show you what the attack was like from both sides and from the planning to the culmination, this is your movie, however.
This is a fine film on many levels. First, the script tried very hard
to go after historical accuracy. On every known level they succeeded.
The film was produced with 2 separate units, one which showed the
Japanese side, & the other the American Side.
Besides this is a third side- the diplomatic side. While this side might drag for you action viewers, it accurately portrays the political intrigue going on with Japan leading up to the attack. This is not an easy side to show & there are those who think FDR ignored warning signs deliberately. When you watch this portion, you realize that even FDR is not that smart.
The film does not waste it's time putting in any fake story, & actually creates some more interesting stories from the true accounts of the time leading up to the attack. While the special effects are 1970 vintage, the attack sequences are well done. So well in fact that stock footage from this film is also used in MIDWAY & some other films made later.
A veteran cast of actors is solid in performances of real, well known historic characters. Some unknown actors do very well in supporting roles. The Japanese cast is outstanding.
In honor of Pearl Harbor Day, this is the film to watch. It was a very popular film in Japan because it ends with them on top after the attack. Their audiences do not comprehend the terrible diplomatic mistake they made even today.
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