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.
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 was never part of the project. When Kurosawa found out, 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.
When Japanese characters refer to the date of the attack, they actually say "December 8", which is technically correct, as Japan is a day ahead of the U.S. It was translated as "December 7" in the subtitles to avoid confusing U.S. audiences.
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 using the wheel brakes, just like a real airplane, but 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 which way to run. Shortly after the plane began taxiing down the runway, it began to lift off the ground and turn to the left, toward 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. The stuntmen were really running for their lives. The special effect was filmed with multiple cameras so it could be reused in other shots.
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. Cuba Gooding, Jr. portrayed him in Pearl Harbor (2001).
The film's failure in North America was partly blamed on opposition to the Vietnam War. Young moviegoers weren't interested in a movie about World War II, and couldn't understand what was controversial about attacking a naval base.
The Japanese airplanes flown in the movie were all converted American trainers. No genuine Japanese warbirds could be found in flying condition at the time. Several American planes had to be rebuilt at a cost of about $30,000 each. They were later sold at auction for about $1,500 each, and most are still flying in private hands.
The U.S.S. Phoenix 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, renamed the General Belgrano, and made world headlines when a Royal Navy submarine sunk her during the Falklands War.
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.
One unidentified civilian pilot hired to fly the Japanese aircraft was taken by a line of stage direction in the script that read, "Watanabe smiles." After each successful shot, when the aerial coordinator announced his satisfaction, the pilot would announce on his radio, "Watanabe smiles." A civilian plane inadvertently flew into their formation during filming, forcing them to perform emergency evasive maneuvers. The aerial coordinator performed an immediate inventory of flying aircraft, and announced his relief that disaster had been avoided. The unknown pilot announced, "Watanabe shits!"
Producer Elmo Williams wanted to make the film as historically accurate as possible. After he put together an initial script, he sought out Professor Gordon W. Prange, regarded as the foremost authority on the attack on Pearl Harbor. One of Dr. Prange's books, "Tora! Tora! Tora!" had been a huge bestseller in Japan, and provided source material 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.
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. It was unofficially named "U.S.S. Kaga" for the duration of filming. While steam appears to be leaking from the bow, Japanese carriers 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. The U.S.S. Enterprise entering Pearl Harbor at the end of the movie was actually the U.S.S. Kearsarge (CVS-33).
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 about 25 features in a decade. Kinji Fukasaku had experience directing large-scale action scenes and scenes involving special effects.
The U.S. Navy's Office of Information was inundated with complaints when the military agreed to allow active-duty U.S. military personnel to participate in the re-creation of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Some saw it as glorifying Japanese aggression and showing Americans as unprepared.
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.
The two pilots named by Admiral William F. Halsey during the target practice scene, Dickinson and Anderson, were both real members of bombing squadrons aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise in December 1941. LT Dickinson was one of the Enterprise's SBD Dauntless pilots shot down during the Pearl Harbor attack when their flight ran into the attack on their way to land at Ford Island in the middle of Pearl Harbor. During the attack, Dickinson's rear-gunner William Miller shot down a Japanese aircraft; this is considered one of, if not the first, Japanese aircraft shot down by U.S. Navy aircraft; however, Miller ultimately did not survive the battle. Surviving that incident, Dickinson would go on to help sink the Japanese submarine I-70 on December 10, 1941; the first enemy ship sunk by the U.S. Navy after the Pearl Harbor attack. Dickinson survived the War and retired from the Navy as a Rear Admiral.
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.
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 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!"
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.
Tatsuya Mihashi was a highly popular and prolific actor throughout the 1950s and 1960s. After completing this film, he didn't appear in another one for about ten years. In the following 25 years, he appeared in only about a half-dozen features before his death in 2004.
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.
When the officer tells the pilot "No, you idiot, it's your own flagship," he is technically correct. The Japanese carrier Akagi was the flagship of Carrier Division 1, and carried the flag of Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the highlight shots planned for the Pearl Harbor attack scene was the collapse of the U.S.S. Arizona's forward tripod mast after the ship had been destroyed. This was to have been filmed on the full-scale model. However, the shot was ultimately not filmed when the special effects team advised the filmmakers that they could not ensure what would happen when the collapse was triggered.
During filming, Kenneth M. Taylor, one of the U.S. Army fighter pilots who managed to take off to challenge the Japanese attack, visited the set. By 1968, he was a retired Colonel in the active U.S. Air Force and a Brigadier General in the Alaska Air National Guard. He is portrayed in the film by Carl Reindel.
In the early stages of the attack scenes, one U.S. destroyer seen prominently in the background is marked 446. This is the U.S.S. Radford, a Fletcher-class destroyer that saw significant service in World War II, the Korean War, and even the Vietnam War. Commissioned in 1942 and retired in 1969, Radford received several awards for her service; 12 battle stars and 2 Presidental Unit Citations for World War II, 5 battle stars for the Korean War, 4 more battle stars for the Vietnam War, as well as the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal. She was scrapped in 1970; the year of the film's release.
The officer on watch on the quarterdeck of the USS Waddell DDG-24 at the time of the filming, unaware of the circumstances (the ship had arrived the day before on her way to Vietnam) sounded General Quarters when he saw what looked like 26 hostile torpedo bombers approaching low over the water. His microphone announcement included the phrase "This is not a drill!". The ship, freshly drilled to fight jet aircraft or cruise missiles, stood to - running a missile out on the rail - bringing the full size 5 inch 54 mounts to bear, terrifying everybody in the harbor. Fortunately the ship was frantically signaled not to shoot down the planes in time to avoid a catastrophe.
The opening music by Jerry Goldsmith is a fugue with a theme written in the modal scale and rhythm heard in traditional Japanese music. The fugue is an old western musical form which reached its zenith in the music of J. S. Bach during the Baroque period. Goldsmith's powerful work thus strongly binds together two completely foreign styles of music, eastern and western.