Pearl Harbor in the Movies

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“Tora! Tora! Tora!” Twentieth Century Fox, 1970”

This movie is a must-see. It could even be considered to teach history that is how precisely it depicts the build-up to the attack of December 7, 1941. The movie is a Japanese-US co-production. This movie precludes personal stories of the characters, but this should not keep you from watching it. Jason Robards who plays Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short was serving aboard USS Honolulu at the time of the attack. The movie won an Oscar© for best visual effects.

History or Entertainment? The Critics were in doubt, some thought that this movie was too long and boring, that the incidents leading up to the attack was played by stiff characters, that the actors did not put any effort into the movie etc. Other critics hailed it as the greatest and most accurate war movie ever made. The actual attack is still very exciting, even after today’s standards.

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Director Richard Fleischer
ScreenPlay Larry Forrester
Production Elmo Williams
Cast Martin Balsam, Sol Yamamura, Joseph Cotton,
E. G. Marshall, Tatsuya Mihasi, Jason Robards, James Whitmore

Photos from "Tora! Tora! Tora!"


Time Magazine, October 5, 1970

“The first half of the film is devoted to apple-pie softness and bamboo resilience. In war movies of the ‘40s, the Japanese were a thin yellow line. Tora! Tora! Tora! is a refreshing reversal...It is the Orientals who are individuals...No single man can be blamed, and no villains or heroes emerge from this foundering, slipshod -- and hypnotic -- drama. That judgment must hold not only for those who lived it but also for those who filmed it. Three directors, one American (Richard Fleischer) and two Japanese, Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasaku, have managed to move crowds and planes, but not the viewer...Original, Master Director Akiro Kurosawa (Rashomon) was signed to oversee the Japanese sequences. He might have revealed the complex psychologies that led to the abyss and beyond. Without him, the film is a series of episodes, a day in the death. As for real men and causes, they are victims missing in action.”

Newsweek, September 28, 1970

“Twentieth Century-Fox’s lavish re-creation of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the events that led to it, is put together like a Fourth of July celebration -- a long procession of predictable speeches leading to a spectacular fireworks display...The Japanese episodes (orignally assigned to the great Akira Kurosawa who was later dropped) were seperately filmed in Japan by two Japanese directors, Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasaku. They carry a good deal more spirit and imagination than the American episodes. In these there are no perfromances, only dramatic readings...”

“ presents as stomach-wrenching and dazzling a cavalcade of action footage as has ever been put on the screen. One feels exactly what it is like to be blasted from the deck of a torpoed ship.” “The aerial photography rivals ballet in the grace of its elegant choreography. The pathetic scenes of American planes blasted to oblivion while attempting take off explain in their violence and uncompromising realism how two men died in the making of the film.”

New York Times, September 25, 1970

“As history, it seems a fairly accurate account of what happened, although it never much bothers its head about why. As film art it is nothing less than a $25-million irrelevancy. As entertainment -- well, that depends on your tolerance for history presented mostly as series of tableaux vivants et parlants, set in conference rooms, code rooms and antechambers and involving such dynamic personages as Cordell Hull, Henry Stimson and Frank Knox (for our side) and Admiral Yamamoto, Ambassador Nomura and General Tojo (for theirs).

“Tora! Tora! Tora! aspires to dramatize history in terms of event rather than people and it just may be that there is more of what Pearl Harbor was all about in fiction films such as Fred Zinneman’s “From Here to Eternity” and as the Variety review pointed out, Raoul Walsh’s “The Revolt of Mamie Stover” than in all of the extravagant posturing in this sort of historical mock-up.”

The Hawaii Times (Japanese newspaper), September 24, 1970

“The Tokyo showing of the $25 million film -- “Tora! Tora! Tora!” -- drew applause from the largely Japanese audience at the close of the show. The speculation centered on the effect it might have on young Japanese who know Pearl Harbor only as the first step in the defeat of World War II. One of those who believed it would have an anti-war impact was Mrs. Alice Kurusu, American-born widow of Saburo Kurusu, Japan’s Ambassador to Washington at the time of Pearl Harbor...The white haired Mrs. Kurusu told the Associated Press afterward the movie was “absolutely splendid,” then added “Showing it in Japan will be a good thing for the young Japanesewho don’t know what war is like. It will teach them to be cautious about getting involved in such disasters in future.”

“The film which shows Japanese planning and execution of the attack as virtually flawless in contrast to American bumbling and lack of preperation, may well strike some secret sparks of pride among the middle-aged Japanese who were here when it happened.”

Honolulu Star Bulletin, September 24, 1970

“Director Richard Fleischer and his Japanese counterparts have brilliantly recreated a monumental chapter of history...The cameramen and production staff have captured that hell magnificently and should receive an Oscar nomination for their efforts.”

Asahi Shinbun, October 1, 1970

The Asahi Shinbun wrote in 1970 (losely translated); "Tora! Tora! Tora!" shows how great the Japanese Navy was, and it is strange, that American movie producers is painting this picture. The actor that portrays Admiral Yamamoto, shows the image of the Japanese warrior, while actors make American soldies look cheap.

The American view makes one uncomfortable, it is not clear what message the American producers want to send out with the way they portray the Japanese Navy."

Tora! Tora! Tora! Got the following review from BBC

"Between them, directors Fleischer and Fukasaku meticulously fashion a chain of diplomatic and military gamble, expertly cataloguing the accidents and unfortunate circumstance with almost documentary accuracy.
Such a pressure-cooker approach is aided by solid turns from Joseph Cotton, Jason Robards, and Martin Balsam, while the film's enduring accomplishment is its rightful view of the Japanese as supremely efficient soldiers (Sô Yamamura's doubtful Admiral Yamamoto is a sympathetic standout)."

Media Circus wrote

""Tora! Tora! Tora!" is actually comprised of two films seamlessly interwoven into one. The Japanese segments were originally to be filmed by acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa, but the task eventually went to directors Kinji Fukasaku (who recently helmed the controversial Japanese box office smash "Battle Royale") and Toshio Masuda (who also directed an installment in the "Space Battlecruiser Yamato" franchise). The American segments were the handiwork of Richard Fleischer, who eventually went on to direct "Conan the Destroyer" and "Red Sonja". Working with a budget of $25 million (which was huge for 1970), the filmmakers trace the events leading up to the fateful day, from the initial planning to the devastating attack itself, which was initiated by the titular battle cry.

Taking into consideration that it was made before the advent of computer graphics, and even before the special effects advances of the "Star Wars" movies, the visual effects "Tora! Tora! Tora!" are outstanding, combining the use of miniatures and full-scale physical effects."