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 P-40 crashing in the flight line was an unplanned accident - it was a life-sized mockup 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 which 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 mockups which 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 win the Navy Cross, the highest honor awarded by the US Navy at the time, followed by the Navy Cross, followed by the Silver Star. 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).
In the movie's opening scenes, Admiral 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 floatplane 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 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.
Admiral 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 United States 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.
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.
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.
Many of the replica Japanese aircraft are owned by members of the Confederate 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 wounded sailor shown firing back at the strafing Japanese planes is based on Chief Ordnanceman John William Finn, stationed at Kaneohe Naval Air Station on 7 December 1941 who set up a .50-cal. machine gun mount and, despite being wounded several times, defiantly 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 Congressional Medal of Honor for valor beyond the call of duty.
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, Professor Gordon W. Prange. One of Dr. Prange's books, "Tora! Tora! Tora!" had been a huge bestseller in Japan had provided source material, and the title, for this film. Elmo Williams asked Dr. Prange to check the script scene by scene for accuracy. Dr. Prange made numerous corrections and suggestions.
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 Falkland Islands War.
When Akira Kurosawa was fired from the production, the Japanese sequences were at least three weeks behind schedule. 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.
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).
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!"
The Japanese aircraft in the film were highly modified American AT-6 and BT-13 trainers. The fighters, "Zeros," were AT-6's, the divebombers, "Vals," were BT-13's, and the torpedo- and levelbombers, "Kates," consisted of AT-6 fronts and wings and BT-13 tails.
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).
Tatsuya Mihashi, who played Commander Genda, was a highly popular and prolific actor throughout the 1950s and 1960s. After completing this film, it would be 10 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.
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.
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 became the cause for Kurosawa's dismissal from the project.
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 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 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.
The mockups 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 U.S. Navy's Office of Information was inundated with complaints from U.S. citizens when the military agreed to allow active U.S. servicepersons to participate in the recreation of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which some viewed as glorifying Japanese aggression and showing Americans as unprepared.
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.
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.
Footage shot for "Tora! Tora! Tora!" also was 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).
This movie's opening prologue states: "The American Pacific Fleet was attacked and partially destroyed by Japan on . . . SUNDAY MORNING DECEMBER 7, 1941. This attack led to the entering of the United States into World War II. All of the events and characters depicted are true to historical fact."