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"Tora! Tora! Tora!": History comes alive in this 1970 Pearl Harbor docudrama

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Tora! Tora! Tora!


Released in September 1970, 20th Century Fox's "Tora! Tora! Tora!" is a large-scale recreation of the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941 and the events that led up to what President Franklin D. Roosevelt said was "a date which will live in infamy."

Like the studio's 1962 D-Day epic "The Longest Day," "Tora! Tora! Tora!" is a multinational collaboration; the film was co-written by an American screenwriter, Larry Forrester, and two scriptwriters from Japan, Hideo Oguni and Ryuzo Kukoshima. (An uncredited Akira Kurosawa also contributed to the Japanese portions of the script.)

Also as in "The Longest Day," 20th Century Fox hired an international team of directors. To helm the Japanese episodes, the studio first hired Kurosawa ("Seven Samurai," "Ran"). However, Kurosawa proved too detail-oriented and difficult to work with, so Fox replaced him with Kinji Fukasaku and Toshio Masuda. For the American episodes, Richard Fleischer was brought on board by producer Elmo Williams, who had assisted Darryl F. Zanuck as one of the producers of "The Longest Day." (Interestingly, Zanuck and his son Richard also served as uncredited producers for "Tora! Tora! Tora!")

The film was shot in Hawaii, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and Japan by the two separate units. Fukasaku and Masuda did their portion in several Japanese studios and sent their footage to Hollywood. There, editors Pembroke Herring and James E. Newcom integrated Fleischer's U.S. episodes with the Japanese footage edited by Chikaya (Shinya) Inoue.

This international approach even extended to how the credits appear in the versions released in the U.S. and Japan. The Japanese release credits Fukasaku and Masuda first, with Fleischer as "director of American episodes." The American edition reverses the credits and lists Fleischer as the movie's principal director.

Like "The Longest Day," "Tora! Tora! Tora!" attempts to recreate historical events as faithfully as possible. However, because the attack on Pearl Harbor was so complex, the time frame covered is longer. The buildup to the Day of Infamy covers almost 18 months, from Tokyo joining the Axis in the fall of 1940 to December 7, 1941.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto: Finally, gentlemen... many misinformed Japanese believe that America is a nation divided... isolationist... and that Americans are only interested in enjoying a life of luxury, and are spiritually and morally corrupt. But that is a great mistake. If war becomes inevitable, America would be the most formidable foe that we have ever fought. I've lived in Washington and studied at Harvard, so I know that the Americans are a proud and just people.

Starting with Japan's alliance with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy and the growing strain in U.S.-Japanese relations, there are many scenes dealing with politics, intelligence gathering, failed diplomacy, and, finally, war. Because of this, and because most of the dialog has appeared in non-fiction books about Pearl Harbor, the acting of the great character actors seems to some a bit stiff and unnatural. But that should not deter new viewers from watching this movie.

The attack sequences condense a four-hour period into a 30 minute montage of the most stunning moments of the Pearl Harbor raid. Japanese planes strafe row upon row of parked American warplanes, bombs and torpedoes turn U.S. battleships into flaming wrecks, and one lucky bomb destroys the U.S.S. Arizona in the film's explosive climax.

Producer Elmo Williams and his team wisely avoided distracting viewers with cameo roles by A-list stars. Instead, he hired well-known and respected character actors, such as Martin Balsam, James Whitmore, Jason Robards, Edward Andrews, and E.G. Marshall to portray key personnel and to draw viewers into the story.

Balsam and Robards fare especially well, portraying Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and Gen. Walter Short in a fair and balanced manner, showing that the Navy and Army commanders in Oahu weren't incompetent fools guilty of dereliction of duty, but rather as American officers whose mindset wasn't prepared for Yamamoto's innovative and daring plan to attack Pearl Harbor.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto: I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.

A word of caution. This movie does not adhere to the FDR-knew-about-the-attack-and-allowed-it-to-happen revisionist theory. Most responsible historians reject this conspiracy theory as nonsense. If you are looking for the revisionists' version of the Pearl Harbor tragedy, then this movie is not for you.

Unlike 2001's popular yet fanciful "Pearl Harbor", this movie is as historically accurate as Hollywood can manage. History buffs may say the movie skips incidents integral to the Pearl Harbor story (such as the Japanese espionage efforts on Oahu, for instance), but "Tora! Tora! Tora!" is a good introduction to the complex subject of how and why Japan struck on December 7, 1941. It also shows why America was caught unprepared even though war with Japan seemed inevitable.

Although special effects now are better than in 1969 (when this film was made), the movie's visuals have more punch than Michael Bay's fictitious version of the Day of Infamy. There are a lot of miniature effects used, especially in the 30 minute sequence depicting the attack on Pearl Harbor, but the use of real planes and locations give the audience a realistic version of the Japanese assault. Real planes are used whenever possible, and even the fake Zero fighters (in reality modified T-28 Texans made to look like Mitsubishi's Zeros) are more convincing than ILM's computer generated ones in "Pearl Harbor."

DVD and Blu-ray Editions

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has released "Tora! Tora! Tora!" in various DVD and Blu-ray editions since 2001.

The 2001 "Special Edition" DVD is a one-disc release which was marketed to coincide with the 60th anniversary year and to ride the coattails of Michael Bay's "Pearl Harbor." It presents the film in anamorphic widescreen format and include three different audio tracks: English 4.1, English Dolby Surround, and French monoaural sound. (French speech, however, is absent during the Japanese-language scenes.)

The "Special Edition" also offers a few extra features, including a 20-minute documentary, "Day of Infamy," the theatrical trailer, and an audio commentary track featuring director Richard Fleischer (who died in 2006) and Stuart Galbraith, a historian of Japanese film.

Special Edition Technical Specifications:

Format: Anamorphic, Closed-captioned, Color, Dolby, Special Edition, THX, Widescreen, NTSC
Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround), English (Dolby Digital 4.1), French (Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada Only)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: G (General Audience)
Studio: 20th Century Fox
DVD Release Date: May 15, 2001
Run Time: 145 minutes

The second DVD release resembles that of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment's two-disc re-release of "The Longest Day." Disc 1 contains the feature film and the audio commentary track, while Disc 2 contains the extra features. These include "Day of Infamy" and the 1970 theatrical trailer, plus other documentaries about Pearl Harbor and the production of "Tora! Tora! Tora!" (See Blu-ray Specifications below for the complete list of extra features.)

2006 Two-Disc Edition

Format: Color, NTSC, Special Edition, Widescreen
Language: English (Dolby Digital 2.1), English (Dolby Digital 4.1), French (Dolby Digital 1.0)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only.)
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Number of discs: 2
Rated: G (General Audience)
Studio: 20th Century Fox
DVD Release Date: May 23, 2006
Run Time: 145 minutes

The Blu-ray (BD) edition of "Tora! Tora! Tora!" is similar to the BD edition of "The Longest Day" in design and packaging. The BD disc contains the feature film plus all of the extra features of the 2006 Colllector's Edition DVD.

Format: AC-3, Blu-ray, Dolby, DTS Surround Sound, Dubbed, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: English
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
Dubbed: French, Spanish
Region: Region A/1
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Number of discs: 1
Rated: G (General Audience)
Studio: 20th Century Fox
DVD Release Date: December 6, 2011
Run Time: 145 minutes


Commentary by Director Richard Fleischer & Japanese Film Historian Stuart Galbraith IV

Day of Infamy Documentary
History vs. Hollywood – TORA! TORA! TORA!: A Giant Awakes
AMC Backstory®: TORA! TORA! TORA!
Behind-the-Scenes Gallery
Production Gallery
FOX Movietone News
Original Theatrical Trailer

Collectible Hardcover Book


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