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 December 7, 1941. He set up a .50 caliber 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 Lieutenant Fusata Iida. Finn was later awarded the Medal of Honor for valor beyond the call of duty.
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 U.S., and his affinity for the U.S. 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 U.S. that begins with "If I am told to fight, I shall run wild for the first six months" is largely accurate.
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 performers 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, for which the stunt men weren't prepared. 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 Cuba Gooding, Jr. in Pearl Harbor (2001).
Contrary to what some people believe, the title of this movie means neither "Surprise! Surprise! Surprise!", nor "Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!" in Japanese. It means "Attack! Attack! Attack!" The phrase comes from the first syllables of "Totsugeki" (meaning attack) and "Raigeki" (for "torpedo attack").
When Japanese characters in the film refer to the date of the attack, they were actually saying "December 8", which is technically correct, as Japan is a day ahead of the U.S. However, it was translated as "December 7" in the subtitles to avoid confusing U.S. audiences.
The thirty plus "Japanese" airplanes flown in the movie were 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 thirty thousand dollars each. They were later sold at auction for fifteen hundred dollars or so apiece, and most of them are still flying in private hands.
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 U.S. 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.
In the 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 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.
While there was controversy over the attack happening without an explicit warning, declarations of war were already obsolete. Germany and the Soviet Union did not declare war when they both 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 May 10, 1940, or when Anglo-Soviet forces invaded Iran on August 25, 1941.
Although it has often been written that the attack on Pearl Harbor was in direct response to the U.S. economic embargo, planning for the attack had begun in April 1941, four months before the embargo took effect in August 1941. The U.S. sending military forces, like the Flying Tigers to China early in 1941, was a major reason for the attack.
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, 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.
The U.S.S. Phoenix, a cruiser, survived the attack on Pearl Harbor and went on to have a distinguished career in the Pacific. 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.
The U.S.S. 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 "U.S.S. Kaga" for the duration of filming. The U.S.S. Enterprise seen entering Pearl Harbor at the end of the movie was actually the U.S.S. Kearsarge (CVS-33).
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.
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!"
Japan declared war on the U.S. 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 thirty minutes before the attack, but its embassy in Washington, D.C. took too long to decode the five thousand-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.
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 handled the dramatic scenes. He had directed approximately twenty-five features in only a decade. Kinji Fukasaku had experience directing large scale action scenes and scenes involving special effects.
Shôgo Shimada and Hisao Toake, who played Ambassadors Nomura and Kurusu, respectively, were the only cast members to work with the Japanese and American units. Shimada's English language dialogue was looped by Paul Frees.
Contrary to some belief, the film did not introduce the line spoken by Admiral 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. Naval historian George W. Prange (author of the book "At Dawn We Slept") recorded eyewitness accounts in his book from individuals who were in the room with Admiral Yamamoto, as well as those who heard what he said after the attack.
Although numerous active-duty U.S. 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. 20th Century Fox was not amused by this, and finally the breach between 20th Century Fox and Kurosawa became the cause for his dismissal from the project.
The U.S. Navy's Office of Information was inundated with complaints from U.S. citizens when the military agreed to allow active-duty U.S. military personnel to participate in the re-creation of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which some viewed as glorifying Japanese aggression, and showing Americans as unprepared.
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 Lieutenant 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 film's failure in North America was partly blamed on opposition to the Vietnam War. Young moviegoers were not interested in a movie about World War II, and could not understand what was controversial about attacking a naval base.
The attack was not really a surprise, as war between the U.S. 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 U.S. occupation since the Spanish-American War.
Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. 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 U.S. 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 U.S.S.R. Under the terms of the Tripartite Pact, Germany and Italy would have been expected to declare war anyway when the U.S. counterattacked Japan. Hitler and Mussolini were aware of Rainbow Five and the Plan Dog memorandum, which decreed the U.S. would concentrate on defeating the European Axis Powers while fighting a defensive war in the Pacific against the Empire of Japan.
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 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!"
On December 9, 1941, Hitler returned to Berlin from the Eastern front and plunged into two days of conferences with Admiral Erich Raeder, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, and Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring. The three advisers stressed that the Rainbow Five plan showed that the United States was determined to defeat Germany. They pointed out that Rainbow Five stated that the U.S. would undertake to carry on the war against Germany alone, even if the Soviet Union collapsed, and Britain surrendered. The three advisers leaned toward Raeder's view that an air and U-boat offensive against British and American ships might be risky, but that the United States was already unquestionably an enemy. On December 9, 1941, Franklin D. Roosevelt made a radio address to the nation. In addition to numerous uncomplimentary remarks about Hitler and Nazism, Roosevelt accused Hitler of urging Japan to attack the United States. In reality, Hitler had told the Japanese not to attack the U.S., instead urging them to attack the Soviet Union or British colonies like Singapore.
The Japanese carrier Akagi was the flagship of Carrier Division 1, and carried the flag of Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, so the scene where the officer tells the pilot "No, you idiot, it's your own flagship" is technically correct.
Tatsuya Mihashi (Commander Genda) was a highly popular and prolific actor throughout the 1950s and 1960s. After completing this film, it was ten years before he appeared in another film. In the following twenty-five years, he appeared in only about a half-dozen features before his death in 2004.
Although the U.S. 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 July 26, 1941, and the U.S. 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 U.S. 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, to be carried out by U.S. pilots and crews in American bombers with Chinese markings. Plans for Rainbow Five were published by the U.S. press in early December 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 World War II is located down the road, between the hotel lobby and beach of the Turtle Bay Resort.
The ship used to portray the U.S.S. Ward (DD-139), an updated World War I "Flush Deck" destroyer, was the U.S.S. Finch (DER-328), a highly modified World War II Edsall-class destroyer escort. The Finch bears no resemblance to the Ward.
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.
Footage from this film was also used in Pearl (1978), a television 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 February 19, 1942 in Australia (2008).
Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, and Benito Mussolini were all delighted by the attack. Churchill knew it meant the Allies would not lose the war, while Hitler and Mussolini were glad their undeclared war with the United States in the Atlantic would now become official, enabling the Second Happy Time.
Though a major tactical victory for the Japanese, the attack has also been described as a Japanese defeat, as Japan did not have the industrial capacity nor the resources to carry out a long war with the United States, China, and the British Empire.
When a large-scale production about the attack on Pearl Harbor was being suggested, it was discovered that 20th Century Fox had already optioned a book about the subject, Ladislas Farago's "The Broken Seal", upon which much of the script would be based.
It was common at the time for Japan to strike before an official declaration of war was delivered. The American leaders were aware of this, and expected an attack to come before war was declared, but were still surprised by the attack, because they didn't know when it would come.
On 11 September 1941 Franklin D. Roosevelt gave a speech in which he publicly admitted that all American ships carrying war munitions to Britain and Russia had been ordered to fire at all Axis ships and submarines on sight.
In September 1941, a German submarine fired on the U.S. destroyer Greer, and Roosevelt declared that the U.S. Navy would assume an escort role for Allied convoys in the Atlantic as far east as the United Kingdom and would fire upon German and Italian ships or submarines if they entered the U.S. Navy zone. This "shoot on sight" policy effectively declared naval war on Germany and Italy, and was favored by Americans by a margin of 2-to-1.
Franklin D. Roosevelt had issued secret orders on August 25, 1941, to the Atlantic Fleet to attack and destroy German and Italian "hostile forces." These secret orders resulted in an incident on September 4, 1941, between an American destroyer, the Greer, and a German submarine. On September 13 the Atlantic Fleet was ordered to escort convoys that did not contain any American ships.
On 27 March 1941 the secret ABC-1 conference between American, British and Canadian staff officers ended with an agreement on common strategy. The plan identified Germany as the main enemy of all three countries. It established that if the United States was drawn into the war on an active basis, even if Japan was also involved, the main US strength would be dedicated to knocking out Germany first. In April 1941 Roosevelt extended the Pan-American Security Zone to cover half the Atlantic Ocean, almost as far as Iceland. Within that zone, US warships escorted British convoys, protecting them against U-boats. On 10 April 1941 the American destroyer USS Niblack attacked a German submarine with depth charges. On 4 September 1941 the USS Greer fought a three-hour duel with the German submarine U-652. A week later President Roosevelt formally authorized US warships to fire on German U-boats whenever they seemed to be "threatening" either US ships or British ships. On 17 October 1941 the destroyer USS Kearny was torpedoed by a German u-boat off Greenland. 11 men were killed, but the rest of the crew were able to escape and carry out repairs. On 31 October 1941 the American destroyer USS Reuben James was torpedoed by the U-552, and sank with the loss of 111 men.
Like Pearl Harbor (2001), this film was shot at the real location, the U.S. 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".
Cornelia Fort, the civilian flight instructor who first spotted the Japanese as they were heading for Pearl Harbor, was pursued by a couple of fighters, and her plane was shot at. The field where she and her student landed was attacked, and the airport manager was killed, and two other planes that took off from that airport never returned. She went on to join the WAFS and her job was ferrying planes. Sadly, she she was killed in a mid-air collision when a plane she was ferrying was struck by another pilot and crashed ten miles south of Merkel, Texas.
Most of the American commanders and politicians involved predicted almost every detail of the attack before the Japanese had finished planning it. Despite their predictions, the Americans believed that the Pacific fleet was a deterrent to the Japanese and that the Japanese would never dare attack the Fleet.
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.
It was intended that the attack would start at least thirty minutes after Nomura's meeting with Secretary Hull in Washington, D.C. This was due to begin at 1 p.m., which would be 8 a.m. in Pearl Harbor, meaning the attack would begin after 8:30 a.m. However, leaving aside the fact that the start of the meeting was considerably delayed, the attack is shown as starting as the flag is being raised at 8 a.m., though in fact the air attack actually began a little earlier at 7:48 a.m. That was twelve minutes before the meeting in Washington was even due to begin, and, for some unexplained reason, forty-two minutes earlier than intended.
During the debate on the deck 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 participated 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.)