TORA! TORA! TORA!
Review by Ed Nguyen
Martin Balsam, Joseph Cotton, E.G. Marshall, Soh Yamamura, Koreya Senda, Jason
Directors: Richard Fleischer, Kinji Fukasaku, Toshio Masuda
Audio: English and Japanese
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th-Century Fox
Features: Commentary, Day of Infamy featurette, trailer
Length: 145 minutes
Release Date: July 12, 2001
fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible
7, 1941 is a date whose significance has been ingrained into the American
collective consciousness. Prior to
this day, the United States had historically been an isolationist nation.
Woodrow Wilson had been re-elected to the presidency in 1916 upon a
platform of keeping the nation out of the first world war.
Years later, even the outbreak of another war in Europe during Franklin
Roosevelt's presidency could not initially persuade America from a stance of
neutrality. Public sentiment soon
changed, however, after Japan's sudden and devastating attack upon Pearl Harbor
on December 7, 1941. Thereafter,
the scope of the war would not only be altered, but this seminal event in U.S.
history would signal an inevitable shift of U.S. policy from isolationism into
one embracing a more significant leading role in the post-war global politics.
attack upon Pearl Harbor has been re-enacted many times in the cinema since the
conclusion of World War II. Notable
entries have included classics like From
Here to Eternity and modern Hollywood blockbusters like Pearl
Harbor. However the 1970 film Tora!
Tora! Tora! remains unique among such films, for not only was it the first
to portray the conflict from both sides objectively and accurately, but it was
also the first historic co-production between American and Japanese filmmakers.
was the brainchild of Fox studio head Darryl Zanuck.
He envisioned it as a follow-up to Fox's The
Longest Day (1962), a critical and popular hit about D-Day.
Tora! Tora! Tora!,
extrapolating from the published research of authoritative WWII historian Gordon
Prange, was to be an epic docu-drama on a scale rarely seen before in cinema.
responsibility was split between Japanese and American studios. Originally,
Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, who had helped to script the original four
hundred-page screenplay, was to have helmed the Japanese portions of the film.
However, during the early stages of filming, nervous Fox executives,
faced with the staggering production before them, decided to replace Kurosawa.
They feared that his idiosyncratic directorial style was not suitable for
the WWII action genre.
replace him, the Fox studio recruited two other Japanese directors.
Kinji Fukasaku would direct most of the Japanese action and process
shots, while Toshio Masuda, who had once trained as a Kamikaze pilot and already
have some experience directing war pictures, would handle the dramatic scenes.
On the opposite shore, Richard Fleischer, who had demonstrated his skill
in the action genre with such big-budget films as 40,000
Leagues Under the Sea and Fantastic
Voyage, would direct the American sequences.
was divided into two portions - a slow build-up leading to the fateful attack
itself. During the first half, the
film sets up the Japanese rationale for attacking the United States. Japan, in the 1930's, was a strongly imperialistic nation.
Starting in 1931, Japan would absorb Manchuria into its empire, the first
step in a campaign to conquer all of China.
By 1941, Japan had occupied all of Indochina, and its Tripartate pact
with Nazi Germany and Italy would further solidify Japan's position as a world
The United States at this time held important economic interests in Asia and thus was becoming increasingly alarmed by Japanese actions in that theater. Although the U.S. remained as yet neutral, it sought to provide some degree of military and financial aid to China and, more importantly, to impose an embargo of oil and other raw materials to Japan. Unfortunately, these precautionary steps were not echoed in the American Pacific Fleet, whose generally poor level of preparedness is depicted accurately in the film.
lacking natural resources, viewed the U.S. embargo as a threat to its economic
growth. Without oil, the Japanese
war machinery could not hope to sustain its existence and would come to a halt
within months. Japan's solution was
to seize the resource-rich territories of Southeast Asia and Indonesia.
To ensure that American interference would not impede this expansion,
Japan formulated a bold plan to pre-emptively destroy the strength of the U.S.
Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor.
first half documents the intense preparations by the Japanese fleet, from
practice torpedo runs to bombing raids on Pearl Harbor mock-up sites.
The actual attack itself is re-enacted in the film's second half, with
the launch of the first Japanese airwave upon the fleet's arrival into adjacent
waters near Pearl Harbor.
Japanese fleet, under the command of Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, was comprised
of six heavy aircraft carriers accompanied by two dozen supporting vessels, plus
several submarines. On Sunday
morning, December 7, 1941, around 7:30 A.M., the six carriers positioned 250
miles from the shores of Oahu launched a wave of over 180 attack aircraft.
Just before 8 A.M., this first wave of torpedo bombers, dive bombers,
horizontal bombers and fighters arrived at Pearl Harbor and quickly attacked
airfields to minimize possible aerial retaliation.
The Navy air bases at Ford Island and Kaneohe Bay, the Marine airfield at
Ewa and the Army Air Corps fields at Bellows, Wheeler and Hickam were soon all
concurrent attack on the harbor was on-going, and by 8 A.M., Pearl Harbor itself
was ablaze in flames and black smoke. Just
after 8 A.M., USS Arizona was fatally
struck by a torpedo that pierced through four decks into the magazine store,
igniting a terrible explosion. In a
matter of minutes, the mighty battleship would sink, taking with it over a
8:55 A.M., the second wave of Japanese planes arrived, encountering a wing of
American B-17 bombers arriving from the mainland. The bombers, unarmed and nearly out of fuel, were defenseless
against the Japanese assault and forced to land quickly.
Elsewhere, six American fighter planes managed to become airborne,
putting up token resistance. However,
the second Japanese wave was still able to catch USS Nevada
as it attempted to pull out of the harbor.
After sustaining heavy damage from the Japanese planes, the Nevada
was forced to beach itself to avoid sinking in shallow waters and blocking the
third wave of Japanese planes never arrived.
The element of surprise now lost, this wave was aborted, and the Japanese
fleet retired from the battle to return home safely, having completely avoided
detection. The Japanese lost only
twenty-nine Japanese planes shot down over Pearl Harbor, and no Japanese surface
ships were even damaged.
American fleet losses were, by comparison, quite terrible.
Sunk or damaged were the battleships USS Arizona,
USS California, USS Maryland,
USS Nevada, USS Oklahoma, USS Pennsylvania,
USS Tennessee, USS West
Virginia, and USS Utah, an
ex-battleship. Also included among
the vessels sunk or damaged were three cruisers and four destroyers. Aircraft losses totaled 188 destroyed and 159 damaged.
American dead numbered 2,403, with 1,178 military and civilian wounded.
poor decisions on the part of American leaders contributed to this level of
destruction. Despite ominous
tidings on the American side, overseas commanders were routinely kept in the
dark. Important messages, relating
to partially broken Japanese codes, were delayed in their transmission.
Early radar warnings from Opana Point were ignored.
Security was lax, as American leaders generally refused to believed that
Pearl Harbor, being so distant from Japan, was in any real danger of being
losses were not complete, however. Three
carriers were not in port at the time and so escaped destruction.
The shoreside facilities at the Pearl Harbor Naval Base also remained
intact and would later help to facilitate quick repairs upon the salvageable
ships. Oil reserves were not hit, either.
10:30 A.M. Honolulu time, a half-hour about the brunt of the attack had been
completed, Japanese officially declared war on American and Britain.
Tora! Tora! Tora! concludes
with a shot of Admiral Yamamoto, commander of the Japanese fleet, looking into
the eastern horizon. The closing shot, as the credits roll, is a devastating one
of the Pacific fleet in flames and defeat at Pearl Harbor.
possesses a stellar, all-star cast, including Martin Balsam as Admiral Kimmel
and So Yamamura as Admiral Yamamoto, but the film is not really an actor's film
or even an ensemble film. It is a
docu-drama that does not deviate into obtrusive (or fictional) romantic love
triangles and unnecessary character development scenes.
Introductions to the historical characters are brief, so familiarity with
these individuals will serve the viewer well. Although sometimes accused of being dry, Tora! Tora! Tora!'s authenticity is the source of its strength,
drawing cinematic suspense and drama from the historic events, which are
depicted fairly accurately in the film.
watching Tora! Tora! Tora! is still
quite absorbing. What makes the
extended attack sequence so much more satisfying than, for example, Disney's
recent Pearl Harbor is that everything
seen on-film is tangential and real. Many of the ships were truly massive scale models,
photographed quite convincingly. Others,
like a "Japanese" carrier, were authentic WWII vessels (since no
actual Japanese ships survived the war, an American carrier was substituted
during an impressive launch sequence). The
dozens of war planes, screaming out of the skies to strafe grounded aircraft,
were all quite real and quite dangerous. When
hangers or planes (mostly P-40s and Catalinas) blew up, the explosions were
authentic, complete with flying shrapnel that came perilously close to injuring
cast and crew.
today have grown too jaded to computer graphics. As such, our awareness that the action in Tora! Tora! Tora! is real and not computer-generated allows us to
better appreciate the true craftsmanship of this film.
Indeed, if some of these scenes seem strangely familiar, that is because
they have been copied (or hijacked outright) in films like Star
Wars, Independence Day, and Pearl
was made in the midst of the Cold War. At
a then-astronomical cost of $25-30 million, it cost more than what Japan had
actually spent on the entire attack itself.
Tora! Tora! Tora! did moderate
business at the U.S. box office but was a huge hit in Japan. Most significantly, the film re-ignited concerns about the
possibility of another surprise attack someday upon American soil and heralded a
new wave of WWII films in the 1970's, including Midway and A Bridge Too Far.
the film's conclusion will not be a surprise to viewers who were attentive
enough in high school history classes. Rather
than diluting our appreciation of this historic event, our pre-knowledge of the
eventual outcome of the attack helps us to truly appreciate the significance and
resonance of the Pearl Harbor attack.
TRIVIA: The authenticity of the dangerous action sequences was not without
consequence. One stunt person died
during practice rehearsals after his plane crashed into a hillside.
Another crashed while transporting his plane to location.
was originally photographed in Panavision, and that widescreen format is
replicated for this DVD. Colors are
solid, with realistic skin tone and seamless process shots.
The detail levels are sharp though not equal to that of more modern
films. The transfer is quite stable
with minimal dust or debris marks and only moderate grain.
The bit rate averages around 6 Mbps.
sequences throughout the film have English subtitles burned into the print.
Elsewhere, the subtitles are optional.
audio is available in a THX-certified surround 4.1 track that packs impressive
punch. Explosions and the roar of
flying planes create a resounding aural environment. For a film over three decades old, Tora! Tora! Tora! sounds great.
An alternate French 1.0 track is also available.
score is minimal but effectively employed, especially during the end credits
played over the destruction of Pearl Harbor.
During the main attack, however, the score is absent, which allows the
on-screen action to speak for itself in an almost-documentary fashion.
a few brief extras on this disc. First,
the featurette Day of Infamy (20 min.)
discusses the events leading up to the Pearl Harbor attack.
It elaborates upon circumstances mentioned or alluded to in the film and
as such is a nice companion piece to the film.
yet is the commentary track by director Richard Fleischer and Japanese film
historian Stewart Galbraith. Fleischer
discusses how the early incompatibility between the American and Japanese styles
of filmmaking and acting was resolved. Galbraith
is a wealth of information about the directors and their filmographies.
Many of the best anecdotes concern the pilots and some of the action
sequences. Fleischer describes the
many dangerous stunts - an aborted collapse of the USS Arizona
mast, a full-scale crash of a Japanese Zero into a hanger, a spectacular landing
by a damaged B-17, and various astounding dog fights.
Most infamous is his recount of a stunt plane that had veered out of
control on an airfield with planes filled with explosives; the subsequent
explosion (and flying propeller) sent stuntmen scrambling for their lives.
Miraculously, no one was injured, and this scene actually appears in the
film! Fleischer also elaborates
upon the ships and models and the complicated logistics of filming the air wave
formations and action sequences.
a trailer for Tora! Tora! Tora! is
included on the disc.
TRIVIA: "Tora! Tora! Tora!"
(meaning "Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!") was the code used by Japanese pilots
over Pearl Harbor to signal the start of the attack.