TORA! TORA! TORA! (1970) BASED ON THE BOOK ‘TORA! TORA! TORA!’ BY GORDON W. PRANGE AND ‘THE BROKEN SEAL’ BY LADISLAS FARAGO. DIRECTED BY RICHARD FLEISCHER, TOSHIO MASUDA AND KINJI FUKASAKU. MUSIC BY JERRY GOLDSMITH.
STARRING MARTIN BALSAM, JOSEPH COTTEN, JASON ROBARDS, TATSUYA MIHASHI AND TAKAHIRO TAMURA.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
This is an absolutely spectacular blockbuster of a movie, though its critics have termed it boring and overlong, with characters the viewers can’t sympathise with. I must say that I mostly disagree with these pronouncements. I think that this is a shocking story well told.
I love this film, which I had the pleasure of seeing on the big screen recently as part of a history festival being held in my local area. Films like this are almost certainly better seen on a big screen. You really get the benefit of all the special effects, for which this movie incidentally won an Oscar. In your face, critics! Clearly just a bunch of begrudgers, haha.
It’s certainly a long film, but you could hardly tell the story of the Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 in an hour or less. A film depicting such a momentous historical event was always going to be a big sprawling epic of a production. If you like old movies about World War Two and you’ve got a hundred and forty odd minutes to spare, you’ll absolutely love this powerhouse of a flick.
The action moves back and forth between America and Japan, but it’s easy enough to follow said action as every location is clearly captioned, as is the name and rank of every officer we see. There’s not much point, I feel, in naming individual Admirals and Privates as there are so many of them and it all gets a bit confusing, so let’s just say that the American officials are frantically busy trying to decode every Japanese communication they can get their hands on.
There are strong feelings on the side of the American military that the Japanese are going to launch an attack on them. The problem is trying to figure out just where and when such an attack might take place. That’s what all the frantic decoding is about.
We, the viewers, have the advantage of seeing things from both sides. We actually get to watch the Japanese aircraft pilots as they make their solemn preparations to launch the offensive that brought America into the Second World War at last.
The film seems to portray the Japanese as people who really believe in what they’re doing. They’re serious and single-minded and they’re dead-set on destroying as much of America’s air and sea defences as they possibly can. You definitely get the feeling that they’d be happy to die for their mission if that was what was required of them. That kind of intense single-mindedness always scares me a bit. Do you know what I mean?
History, of course, has shown that the Japanese mostly succeeded in their mission, though not without incurring casualties and, later on, a terrible retribution from the Americans. The scenes depicting the attack are so well done that they look real. You actually feel like you’re watching real old movie footage, that’s how good it is.
The film seems pretty accurate in its representation of the devastation wrought on the American fleet. It’d be damn near impossible to watch it without feeling some of the shock felt by the Americans, whose slow reaction to some of the Japanese coded messages meant that they were, in fact, taken almost completely by surprise.
That’s where the phrase Tora! Tora! Tora! comes into the picture. The words were the code-words used by the Japanese fighter pilots to indicate to their waiting colleagues that the desired ‘complete surprise’ had been achieved. I loved that the Japanese actors actually spoke their native language and subtitles were used to let us know what they were saying. The film, which incidentally I prefer to the more modern Ben Affleck version, feels more authentic that way.
My favourite character was Martin Balsam as the unfortunately named Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, the Commander-in-Chief of the US Pacific Fleet. While I watched him staring in horror at the sight of Pearl Harbour in flames on that terrible December morning in 1941, I couldn’t help being reminded of the time that he cautiously climbed the stairs in the Bates Motel as Milton Arbogast, private investigator, some ten years earlier. That’ll always be my favourite performance of his, but I’ve generally always liked him in everything I’ve seen him in, this film included.
Joseph Cotten as Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson is a handsome silver-haired fox in the film. A really young-looking Jason Robards is in here too, for once not playing a crooked, all-powerful billionaire businessman, which seems to be the only role I’ve ever seen him in, haha.
I love the scene where the woman (a woman pilot, if you please!) giving a flying lesson to a young American airman finds herself suddenly caught up in the air attack. Without warning, they find themselves surrounded by Japanese planes. They’re literally bang-slap in the middle of one of the most important episodes in history ever and they don’t even know it. Watch the movie to see what they do about it.
This excellent war film, which despite what the critics say manages to be both informative and entertaining, ends on a quote from the Japanese Admiral Yamamoto in his flagship after the attack. It pretty much sums up the only real ‘achievement’ of the attack on Pearl Harbour. It’s bleak, it’s portentous and it’s chilling, and it’s pithy enough that I’m going to end on it:
‘I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and to fill him with a terrible resolve.’
You said it, mate…
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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