Wednesday, June 20, 2012

CRACKER? Tora! Tora! Tora!

            “Tora! Tora! Tora!” is the epic retelling of the attack on Pearl Harbor told from both points of view.  It is from the war epic genre that includes The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far, and Midway .  It fits comfortably in that group, but differs from them because it is less character driven.  Of the group it has the most documentary feel and the most fidelity to historical accuracy.  It also does not have an all-star cast.
            TTT was released in 1970.  It was a joint American-Japanese project with separate directors and production.  The two separate “films” were then intertwined to create the finisled product.  The movie bounces back and forth between the opposing sides seamlessly.  The screenplay was written by two Japanese and an American, The screenplay was based on the eponymous nonfiction book by Gordan Prange and “The Broken Seal” by Ladislas Farago.  Prange vetted the script.  There were numerous technical advisors including Japanese who participated in the attack. TTT strives for authenticity, sometimes at the expense of entertainment.  The Japanese dialogue is subtitled which is helpful in understanding the Japanese psyche.
            The early part of the film details events leading up to the attack.  It is an excellent tutorial on the political and strategic machinations prior to the attack.  One flaw is the lack of a clear time line for events before Dec. 6.  The movie offers a brass-eye view from the governmental and military levels.  The main American characters are Gen. Short (Jason Robards) and Adm. Kimmel (Martin Balsam).  We also get a large dose of Yamamoto, Hull, Stimson, and Nomura.  The movie forgoes the grunt level characters like Duhon (A Bridge Too Far) or Garth (Midway).  There are no major fictional characters. 
            TTT fits in all the “greatest hits” of the Pearl Harbor story.  These include: the code-breaking effort, the radar pick-up, Taylor and Welch in their P-40s, the U.S.S. Ward versus the Jap sub, Dorie Miller, the Hull-Nomura interchanges.  Any fan of the battle will not be disappointed.  Fans of faux dramatics will be.  This movie is very different from “Pearl Harbor” in that respect.
Dorie Miller
            The attack is spectacularly done.  It features real planes.  B-17s and P-40s were available and American planes like T-6s were mocked up to play Zeros.  The stunt flying is well done.  The dog- fighting acrobatics are commendable, but you do get the fake looking shots from the front typical for air combat scenes from that era.  The attack on Hickam Air Field is noteworthy as is the explosion of the Arizona.  There are plenty of explosions in this movie, but that is appropriate of course.  The movie won the Academy Award for Best Special Effects.  It was a s good as you could get pre-CGI.
the attack on Hickam Field

            TTT resembles "The Longest Day" in its impartial treatment of both sides.  In fact, it could be argued it may be a bit too sympathetic to the Japanese.  The movie was a bigger hit in Japan than in the U.S. (where it bombed).  Contrast that with “Pearl Harbor”.  Another key theme is the rehabilitation of the reputations of Short and Kimmel who were made scapegoats in the aftermath of the disaster.  The movie makes a strong case for complacency being the major flaw of the American leadership. not malfeasance.  That plus the incredible luck the Japanese had.
            The obvious comparison is to “Pearl Harbor” and whichever one you prefer tells  a lot about you as a viewer.  If you are like me and prefer accuracy at the expense of entertainment, you would pick TTT.  I have to say that most of my students would prefer the more splashy (and pompous) PH and would find TTT boring, especially in the lead-up to the attack.  The best thing to do is to watch them as companion pieces.  You can avoid reading up on the attack if you take that approach.
Cracker?  Probably.
Rating - 8/10


  1. Some Americans over 40 (i.e., old enough to remember the actual event) were annoyed by the sympathetic treatment of the Japanese. Critic Judith Crist sarcastically said that the movie was about how the stupid Americans allowed the attack, in spite of the honorable Japanese officers' best efforts to prevent it. But the story is about the Japanese planning and carrying out the attack, so they naturally come across as proactive (and therefore seem more intelligent), while the Americans seem reactive (at best) or clueless (at worst).

    1. Well put! I could not agree more with your last point more. When I mentioned the incredible luck the Japanese had I was mainly referring to the luck of being pitted against incompetent and clueless American leadership. BTW those are traits found commonly at the start of almost every American war so the Japanese could have factored that in to their decision to attempt a very risky attack.

      As far as sympathetic treatment, the movie very much reminds me of "The Longest Day". There are no Nazis in that movie. Yamamoto and Rommel are mirror images of each other.

      Judith Crist did not know what she was talking about. Since the movie is as accurate as could be, it shows she knew little of the actual events and and wanted "Pearl Harbor" instead.

  2. There are exceptions, but generally I hate movies that mix fiction with fact. Especially when the fictional part of the story is some silly soap opera. Pearl Harbor, Midway, and D-Day the Sixth of June all seemed to think that the historical event was not interesting enough by itself, so they had to add a love triangle or whatever. It's also a kind of bait-and-switch. Imagine the reverse: if you rented a DVD of Love Story or An Affair to Remember, you would be annoyed if the movie turned out to be more about the air raid on Pearl Harbor or the battle of Midway.

    1. Excellent comments. You mention three outstanding examples to back up your opinion. I agree with your feelings toward these types of movies, but would argue that it is okay to overly fictionalize the plot if the goal is to bring history to the masses. A good example would be "Glory". Just don't make the extra fluff laughable like in those three movies.

  3. I thought this was such an excellent movie, especially because it showed both sides.
    I don't think this and Pearl Harbor should be compared at all. It's not fair to either one of them, their purposes are so different. This is a war movie, Pearl Harbor is a romance with a war theme.
    I'm somewhat astonised that Tora!Tora!Tora! isn't on your list. It is so much better than mayn others.

    1. I agree. I am not a huge hater of "Pearl Harbor" (although it is not a good movie). As I suggested, they make a good pair. It is amazing that "Tora" is not on the list, but "Midway" is. It is also noteworthy that "Tora" does not force a happy ending by including the Doolittle Raid like PH does.

  4. I definitely agree on this one. One of my favorites, probably top 10. It is accurate and very well executed.

    But I don't see the point in comparing this to Pearl Harbor. It's not a war movie but a romantic drama set during war time and even then it's just awful movie.

    1. Comparing them is another way of saying how much "Pearl Harbor" sucks. And it may have a lot of romance in it, "Pearl Harbor" is still clearly a war movie. If not, a majority of 1940s war movies would have to be removed from the genre.


Please fell free to comment. I would love to hear what you think and will respond.