The movie is based on two different novels: The Broken Seal by Ladislas Farago and the now out of print Tora! Tora! Tora! by Gordon W. Prange, who also acted as a fact checker on the film. The movie is rare in that it had two separate film productions, each with their own directors, writers, film crews, etc. One crew handled the American scenes and the other handled the Japanese ones.
Legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa was hired to direct the Japanese scenes. He was soon weeks behind schedule and had angered the producers by hiring cronies for some of the film’s roles. Some stories say he suffered a nervous breakdown and was fired. Others say he had been tricked into taking the job by being told legendary English director David Lean was going to do the other half of the film, and when Kurosawa found out this was not true, he intentionally underperformed in order to get fired. In either case, the film did not get off to a good start.
In order to make up for lost time the producers hired two Japanese directors to replace Kurosawa. Kinji Fukasaku (who would later do 2000’s Battle Royale) was brought in to direct the big action sequences and Toshio Masuda was hired to direct the dramatic scenes. For the American half of the film Richard Fleischer (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) was hired to direct. Other than the man who played the Japanese ambassador in
, the American and Japanese crews shared no cast members. Washington
The opening credits are quite interesting. Everyone is given equal time. For the directors’ credits both American and Japanese names appear onscreen at the same time. The equivalent happens for the writers, cinematographers, etc. It even extends to the large cast in this film. Such American actors as Martin Balsam, Joseph Cotten, E.G. Marshall, James Whitmore, and Jason Robards share their onscreen credits with the Japanese actors of similar prominence.
Since this film is a re-creation of true events, and since those events are quite famous for being the start of the
entering World War II, I’m not going to worry about spoilers. You should already know that the Japanese bombed U.S. Pearl Harbor. By the way, the title of the film comes from the code signal the lead pilot sent back when his men started their attack. It has been translated as “Tiger Tiger Tiger”, which doesn’t seem to have much connection to the events. I’ve read that the word “tora” is actually derived from the first syllables of the Japanese words for “torpedo attack” – “to” and “ra” – and that it is just a coincidence that the result phonetically sounds like the Japanese word for tiger. I have some doubts about this explanation, too, but it is true that a major part of the first wave was planes dropping torpedoes to attack the ships.
The film concentrates on the higher ranking officers and politicians, rather than on the “regular people” – either civilians or enlisted men. It shows how both sides committed a series of mistakes both before and during the attack. An American officer ordered the planes at an airfield near
to be clustered together to better protect them from sabotage…which led to them being extremely easy to be destroyed by an air attack. An American radar installation picked up the Japanese planes coming in for the attack, but they were told to ignore it because radar was new at the time and people didn’t trust it. A Japanese sub was sunk trying to enter Pearl Pearl Harbor before the attack, but an officer insisted on 100% confirmation of it before he would report it out to anyone else.
Bureaucratic mistakes were not just the province of the Americans. The film opens with an internal power struggle between the Japanese Naval officers and the Japanese Army officers for influence in the government. Some officers, such as the famous Admiral Yamamoto, did not want to attack the
because of the retaliation he felt would come, but the Army was hell bent on showing the world the might of the Japanese military. They won. Another snafu occurs when the Japanese embassy in U.S. Washington, D.C. is ordered to deliver a declaration of war one half hour before the attack on Pearl so that could ensure all diplomatic expectations were met. However, this message was so secret they ordered the embassy to not allow their usual translators and clerical people to type up the message to be delivered, so it didn’t arrive in time. A major mistake is made by the man in charge of the entire Japan Pearl Harbor attack. He has another entire wave of planes ready to take off to attack the American’s dry dock facilities, supply depots, and other essentials for the military. Instead he orders that attack cancelled because the lack of American aircraft carriers at has left him unsure if they are about to attack him. Had he stuck to the plan Pearl would not have been able to raise and repair their ships after the attack anywhere near as fast as they did. America
The film spends the first hour and forty-five minutes on all the things that led up the attack: the Japanese preparations; the Americans knowing something was coming, but not when; the attempts by the Americans to locate the Japanese fleet; attempts by people on both sides to prevent the attack; etc.. The rest of the film (about 30-40 minutes) is the attack itself. The cinematography for this is spectacular. There are several shots of the Japanese planes flying over the
. In one of them you can see a large white cross on a hilltop. This is a memorial to the people who died during the attack. (Yes, it’s an anachronism in the film, but it’s a nice touch.) island of Oahu
The film even shows a lot of the little stories that came out later, such as the female flight instructor who all of a sudden found herself surrounded by Japanese planes. Another story briefly shown is that of Dorie Miller. He was a black cook onboard one of the ships being attacked. At that time black men were not allowed to be trained to perform any functions onboard ships other than cooks or stewards for officers. When Miller saw that all the men around one of the ship’s guns had been killed he ran out, and with no training stood there and fired the gun under heavy attack from Japanese planes, downing at least one of them. For his actions he was the first black serviceman to ever receive the Navy Cross, the highest honor they had at that time.
The thing that I liked the best about this film was the evenhandedness. Frankly, it surprised me quite a bit. Imagine Argo being made where we also saw the side of the Iranian protestors, written and directed by Iranians. I could definitely see how that same evenhandedness could turn some Americans off to this film, especially anyone who lost a family member in the attack. The Japanese killed over 2,400 people at
– the largest single attack on Americans until the almost 3,000 killed on 9/11. Pearl
The war films I tend to like the best are actually anti-war films. I’ve never much been one for the “glory of war”. Tora! Tora! Tora! almost has the feel of a “here’s the facts” presentation, though. No excuses were made. No excessive drama was added that did not already exist. Tension was still there even though you knew how it would turn out. Speaking of which, if you know nothing about what happened at
Pearl Harbor then this is an excellent film for you to see. Unless you hate all war movies then I highly recommend this film.
Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
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