Akira Kurosawa agreed to direct the Japanese part of the film only because he was told that David Lean was to direct the American part. Lean, in fact, was never part of the project. When Kurosawa found out about this, he tried to get himself fired from the production--and succeeded.
The wounded sailor shown firing back at the strafing Japanese planes is based on Chief Ordnanceman John Finn, who was stationed at Kaneohe Naval Air Station on 7 December 1941. He set up a .50-cal. machine gun mount and, despite being wounded several times, fired back at strafing Zero fighters during the second attack wave, hitting several of them and even shooting down one, piloted by combat unit leader Lt. Fusata Iida. Finn was later awarded the Medal of Honor for valor beyond the call of duty.
Contrary to popular belief, the title of this movie means neither 'Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!' nor 'Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!' in Japanese. The phrase actually comes from the first syllables of "Totsugeki" (meaning attack) and "Raigeki" (for "torpedo attack") yielding TO-RA, TO-RA, TO-RA, which incidentally has the same pronunciation as "tiger" repeated thrice.
The P-40 crashing in the flight line was an unplanned accident--it was a life-sized mock-up powered by a gasoline engine turning the propeller and steered by using the wheel brakes, just like real airplanes, but was specifically designed not to fly. The aircraft shown was loaded with explosives that were to be detonated by radio control at a specific point down the runway. Stunt actors were strategically located and rehearsed in which way to run. However, shortly after the plane began taxiing down the runway it did begin to lift off the ground and turn to the left. The left turn would have taken it into a group of other mock-ups that had also been wired with explosives, but weren't scheduled to be destroyed until later. The explosives in the first P-40 were detonated on the spot in order to keep it from destroying the other planes, so the explosion occurred in a location the stunt men weren't prepared for. When it looks like they were running for their lives, they really were. This special effect was filmed with multiple camera so that it could be reused in other shots in the film, as were all the major special effects.
The African-American mess attendant firing the machine gun on the West Virginia was Seaman First Class Doris 'Dorie' Miller. He was the first African-American to be awarded the Navy Cross, second only to the Medal of Honor in the U.S. Armed Forces Order of Precedence. Without any training he fired the unattended machine gun at the Japanese aircraft until it was out of ammunition. He was portrayed by Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. in Pearl Harbor (2001).
When Japanese characters in the film refer to the date of the attack, they are actually saying "December 8," which is technically correct, as Japan is a day ahead of the U.S.; however, it is translated as "December 7" in the subtitles to avoid confusing U.S. audiences.
The 30+ "Japanese" airplanes flying in the movie are all converted American trainers. No genuine Japanese warbirds were to be found in flying condition at the time. Instead, several American planes had to be rebuilt at a cost of about $30,000 each. They were later sold at auction for $1,500 or so apiece, and most of them are still flying in private hands.
Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto most likely did not utter his famous quote about having "roused a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve"--it seems to be a post-war invention based on Yamamoto's actual beliefs on the likely outcome of war with the US and his affinity for the US in general. It appears to be a more dramatic re-write of a letter he sent a month after the attack, in which he wrote: "A military man can scarcely pride himself on having 'smitten a sleeping enemy'; it is more a matter of shame, simply, for the one smitten. I would rather you made your appraisal after seeing what the enemy does, since it is certain that, angered and outraged, he will soon launch a determined counterattack." By contrast, his warning earlier in the film about attacking the USA that begins with "If I am told to fight . . . I shall run wild for the first six months . . . " is largely accurate.
In the opening scenes, Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto meets his officers aboard a battleship. The ship was a full-scale replica, complete from bow to stern, and had even a mock-up float plane on a catapult. It was built on a beach in Japan, next to the replica of the aircraft-carrier "Akagi." The Akagi set consisted of about two-thirds of the deck and the island area.
The USS Yorktown (CVS-10) was disguised as the Japanese carrier Kaga to film scenes of aircraft taking off and landing. It was fitted with a false bow to disguise the catapults. Although it appears as though steam is leaking from the bow, Japanese carriers actually used steam to indicate wind speed and direction over the bow. The steam trail was lined up with the painted white lines on the bow. It was unofficially named "USS Kaga" for the duration of filming. The USS Enterprise seen entering Pearl Harbor at the end of the movie is actually the USS Kearsarge (CVS-33).
The USS Phoenix, a cruiser, survived the attack on Pearl Harbor and went on to have a distinguished career in the Pacific theatre of war. After the war she was sold to Argentina and made world headlines when the General Belgrano, as she was re-named, was sunk by a Royal Navy submarine during the Falklands War.
Producer Elmo Williams' goal was to make this film as historically accurate as possible. To this end, after putting together an initial script, he sought out the services of the man regarded as the foremost authority on the attack on Pearl Harbor, Prof. Gordon W. Prange. One of Dr. Prange's books, "Tora! Tora! Tora!" had been a huge bestseller in Japan and provided source material (and the title) for this film. Williams asked Dr. Prange to check the script scene by scene for accuracy. Prange made numerous corrections and suggestions.
Many of the replica Japanese aircraft are owned by members of the Commemorative Air Force, an organization that specializes in re-enactments and aircraft preservation. They are used every year in the annual CAF air show, where a re-enactment of the Pearl Harbor attack takes place. This has been going on since 1972.
Shôgo Shimada and Hisao Toake, who played Ambassadors Nomura and Kurusu, were the only cast members to work with both the Japanese and American units. Shimada's English language dialog was looped by Paul Frees.
The attack on Pearl Harbor would not be regarded as a war crime today, as declarations of war have been rendered obsolete by the United Nations Charter. The US has not declared war on a country since 1942, despite being almost continually at war to one degree or another since then. The Japanese government had already sent a message that negotiations had ended, but there was a delay in its translation. The operation was portrayed as a "sneak" attack in the US for propaganda purposes.
Contrary to some belief, the film did NOT introduce the line spoken by Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto: "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve." That line was already famous, which is the reason for its inclusion in the film. Although the line accurately reflects Yamamoto's feelings, it has never been traced or sourced as an historical quote. Director Richard Fleischer claims that producer Elmo Williams discovered the quote in Yamamoto's diary, while Williams says that screenwriter Larry Forrester found it in a 1943 letter by Yamamoto. However, no such documentation has ever been produced. It is similar to a passage from Hiroyuki Agawa's biography of Yamamoto, "The Reluctant Admiral". Agawa quotes him having said, "A military man can scarcely pride himself on having 'smitten a sleeping enemy'; it is more a matter of shame, simply, for the one smitten. I would rather you made your appraisal after seeing what the enemy does, since it is certain that, angered and outraged, he will soon launch a determined counterattack". Even that version of the quote has not been documented, though. Nevertheless, the "sleeping giant" quote has since become legend. It was included in the screenplay for Pearl Harbor (2001).
When Akira Kurosawa was fired from the production, the Japanese sequences were at least three weeks behind schedule. Producer Elmo Williams solved the problem by hiring two Japanese directors to head two production units as replacements. Toshio Masuda would handle the dramatic scenes. He had directed approximately 25 features in only a decade. Kinji Fukasaku had experience directing large-scale action scenes and scenes involving special effects.
Akira Kurosawa attempted to cast friends and business associates, including some high-level industrialists, in key roles in the film's Japanese segments as a quid-pro-quo for later funding of future films. Twentieth Century-Fox was not amused by this, and finally the breach between Fox and the director became the cause for Kurosawa's dismissal from the project.
The peak filmed and pointed out by the actors as the site for the new radar antenna, where they were having trouble securing access from local forestry officials, is nowhere near Opana Point. The peak is actually Puu Kanehoalani on Oahu's east coast. It is one of the narrowest and most inaccessible peaks on the island, even for daring mountain climbers.
The civilian pilots hired to fly the Japanese aircraft were a bunch of characters. One, never identified, was taken by a line of stage direction in the script which read, "Watanabe smiles". After each successful shot with the aerial coordinator announced his satisfaction, this pilot would anonymously announce on his aircraft radio, "Watanabe smiles". During the filming of one shot, a civilian general aviation aircraft inadvertently flew into their formation, forcing them to perform emergency evasive maneuvers. The aerial coordinator performed an immediate inventory of flying aircraft, announced his relief that disaster had been avoided. This same unknown pilot this time announced, "Watanabe shits!"
Although numerous active-duty US Navy personnel appeared in the movie, they were only allowed by the Navy to work during their off-duty hours, and the production had to pay them as they would any other extras.
The mock-ups of the American ships in Pearl Harbor were constructed upon ocean-going barges, which were extremely expensive to rent, causing director Richard Fleischer to comment during production, "If the Japanese had attacked us with ocean-going barges, we couldn't afford to make this film!"
The bandanna or "hachimaki" Commander Mitsuo Fuchida wore on his flight to Honolulu translates to "Certain Victory". He flew in the lead Nakajima B5N2 bomber with Lt. Mitsuo Matazaki piloting and Norinobu Mizuki navigating.
The Japanese aircraft in the film were highly modified American AT-6 and BT-13 trainers. The fighters, "Zeros," were AT-6s, the dive bombers--"Vals"--were BT-13s and the torpedo- and level-bombers, "Kates," consisted of AT-6 fronts and wings and BT-13 tails.
The U.S. Navy's Office of Information was inundated with complaints from U.S. citizens when the military agreed to allow active-duty US military personnel to participate in the recreation of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which some viewed as glorifying Japanese aggression and showing Americans as unprepared.
Germany and Italy declared war on the US four days after the attack. Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini could no longer ignore the amount of economic and military aid being given by the US to the British Empire and the Soviet Union. The war declaration made it possible for German and Italian U-Boats to commence the "Second Happy Time" against American ships carrying war munitions and other supplies to the UK and the USSR. Under the terms of the Tripartite Pact, Germany and Italy would have been expected to declare war anyway when the US counterattacked Japan.
Footage from this film was also used in Pearl (1978), a TV miniseries about the Pearl Harbor attack. Some of the Pearl Harbor footage also was used in depicting the Japanese air attacks on Midway on June 4, 1942 in Midway (1976) and on Port Darwin on Feb. 19, 1942 in Australia (2008).
While there was controversy over the attack happening without an explicit warning, declarations of war were already being phased out. The Soviet Union did not declare war when it invaded Poland in September 1939. Adolf Hitler did not declare war on the Soviet Union prior to launching Operation Barbarossa, which he claimed was a pre-emptive strike before Joseph Stalin had time to rearm for war against the European Axis Powers. The Japanese did not declare war before attacking Russian warships at Port Arthur in 1904, beginning the Russo-Japanese War. There was no declaration of war when the British invaded Iceland on 10 May 1940, or when Anglo-Soviet forces invaded Iran on 25 August 1941.
Since the U.S. military presently runs a restricted communications installation at the site, the memorial dedicated to the role of Opana Point in WWII is located down the road, between the hotel lobby and beach of the Turtle Bay Resort.
The ship used to portray the USS Ward (DD-139), an updated World War I "Flush Deck" destroyer, was the USS Finch (DER-328), a highly modified World War II Edsall-class destroyer escort. The Finch bears no resemblance to the Ward.
The Japanese carrier Akagi was the flagship of Carrier Division 1 and carried the flag of Vice-Adm. Chuichi Nagumo, so the scene where the officer tells the pilot "No, you idiot . . . it's your own flagship" is technically correct.
Although it has often been written that the attack on Pearl Harbor was in direct response to the US economic embargo, planning for the attack had actually begun in April 1941 - four months before the embargo took effect in August 1941. The US sending military forces like the Flying Tigers to China early in 1941 was a major reason for the attack.
Tatsuya Mihashi, who played Cmdr. Genda, was a highly popular and prolific actor throughout the 1950s and 1960s. After completing this film, it would be ten years before he would appear in another film. In the following 25 years he would appear in only about a half-dozen features before his death in 2004.
The manned radar antenna site depicted as "Opana Point" was actually Koko Head, which is just above Oahu's famous Hanauma Bay. This is on the opposite side of the island from the real-life location. Today it is home to many antennae including the FAA's CKH VORTAC.
Japan declared war on the US and the British Empire on December 7, 1941, two hours after the attack on American military installations at Pearl Harbor. The Japanese government had originally intended to deliver the declaration 30 minutes before the attack, but its embassy in Washington took too long to decode the 5,000-word document. The declaration was printed on the front page of Japanese newspapers on December 8, 1941, and again on the 8th of every month until the end of the war.
The US had already sent military forces to China without declaring war on Japan. Plans had been drawn up in 1940 for attacks on Japanese military bases without a formal declaration of war, using American bombers with Chinese markings. Plans for Rainbow Five were published by the US press in early December 1941.
The attack was not really a surprise, as war between the US and the Empire of Japan was widely expected after the economic embargo began. However, many Americans were expecting the attack to take place in the Philippines, which had been under US occupation since the Spanish-American War.
When a large-scale production about the attack on Pearl Harbor was being suggested, it was discovered that Fox had already optioned a book about the subject, Ladislas Farago's "The Broken Seal", upon which much of the script would be based.
Although the US was often described as neutral until the attack on its naval base at Pearl Harbor, this was no longer true after the start of Lend Lease in March 1941. All Japanese assets within the United States were frozen on 26 July 1941, and the US imposed an economic embargo against Japan in concert with the European colonial powers. Critics of Franklin D. Roosevelt argued that his administration was effectively waging war against the Axis Powers without actually declaring war, and giving war materials to the British Empire and the Soviet Union was likely to provoke a Japanese attack on the United States.
The film's failure in North America was partly blamed on opposition to the Vietnam War. Young film-goers were not interested in a movie about World War II, and could not understand what was controversial about attacking a naval base.
Like Michael Bay's Pearl Harbor (2001), this film is shot at the real location, the still-active Naval Station Pearl Harbor, and, unavoidably features anachronisms in the ships seen in the background. However, in the case of this film, this turned out to be more of a benefit than a disadvantage; many of the ships seen in the background, although they had been extensively modified, were still recognizably World War II-era ships, most prominently Fletcher-class destroyers, that could substitute quite well for the older but similar-looking ships in port on December 7, 1941. For the 2001 film, however, most of the ships seen in the background were distinctively more modern ships that could not fit well with the 1941 setting of the story.
In December 2011 a declassified memorandum from the Office of Naval Intelligence showed President Franklin D.Roosevelt was warned three days before the attack that the Japanese empire was eyeing up Hawaii with a view to "open conflict."
The woman giving the flying lesson as the Japanese approach Pearl Harbor is based on the real-life Cornelia Fort. Fort's plane, an Interstate Cadet, was chased and strafed during the attack while landing at a nearby civilian airport. Fort later joined the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Service. She was the first WAFS pilot to die during the war, the result of a mid-air collision near Abilene, Texas.
During the debate on the beck of the battleship (probably the 'Nagato') after the war games reference is made for the need for six carriers in the attack force. During the meeting in Admiral Kimmel's office, there is reference made to this same need. Six carriers did in fact participate in the attack; two of them (Zuikaku and Shokaku) were still under construction for most of the first part of the film and didn't commission until late 1941. U.S. Naval intelligence may not have known of their existence. If they did, they may not have believed the ships to be combat-ready. This may have been a factor in the American intelligence failure. (If U.S.S. 'Essex', an American carrier commissioned at the end of 1942, were to be taken as an example, the two ships would probably not have been believed to be ready for operations before February 1942.)