(directors: Richard Fleischer/Kinji Fukasaku/Toshio Masuda; screenwriters: from the books “Tora! Tora! Tora!” by Gordon W. Prange and “The Broken Seal” by Ladislas Farago/Larry Forrester/Hideo Oguni/Ryuzo Kikushima; cinematographers: Charles Wheeler/Osamu Furuya/Sinsaku Himeda/Masamichi Satoh; editors: Pembroke J. Herring/James Newcom/Inoue Chikaya; music: Jerry Goldsmith; cast: Jason Robards (Gen. Walter C. Short), Martin Balsam (Adm. Husband E. Kimmel), Joseph Cotton (Henry L. Stimson), E.G. Marshall (Lt. Col. Rufus S. Bratton), James Whitmore (Adm. William F. Halsey), Neville Brand (Lt. Kaminsky), George Macready (Cordell Hull), Sô Yamamura (Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto); Runtime: 144; MPAA Rating: G; producer: Elmo Williams; 20th Century Fox; 1970-USA/Japan, in English and Japanese, with some English subtitles)

“Gives the viewer a true sense of the frightening chaos felt at the time.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The title for Richard Fleischer’s (“Soylent Green”) action war drama comes from the Japanese code words for success. Tora! Tora! Tora! is a large scale WW11 movie that depicts in great detail the events (including all the blunders on both sides) leading up to and including the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 7, 1941, told from both country’s points of view. Fox studio head Darryl F. Zanuck and producer Elmo Williams shape it as a companion piece to their 1962 D-Day chronicle The Longest Day, a film that likewise gloried in historical facts over dramatic fiction. It’s a Japanese-American co-production with Fleischer receiving input from two Japanese directors doing the Japanese scenes, Kinji Fukasaku and Toshio Masuda (the producers replaced the great Akira Kurosawa by firing him or he left the production on his own after two weeks supposedly upset with the producers placing limits on what he could film, in any case he was no longer involved in the film). The Japanese segments are interesting and more dramatically inspiring than Fleischer’s arid rendering, even though they soft sell the Japanese position. Nevertheless, we get to see the human side of our former enemies that few Hollywood pictures have attempted to do up until that time. What the film fails to do is point the finger on which Americans were to be held responsible for the mistakes of not being better prepared for the attack: it does not allow these pols to be vilified, therefore we do not learn why Pearl Harbor was left so unprotected by the higher-ups–something much discussed in history circles.

A distinguished cast seems lost in the ‘fog of an epic movie’ as this prototypical disaster film ably reconstructs the attack for a sum of a mere $25 million (top heavy in its day), but is soft in saying something controversial and giving the cast something dramatic to do. Though considering how dry the film was, Joseph Cotton, Jason Robards, and Martin Balsam acquitted themselves well with solid performances.

The film makes up for its lack of nerve and long tedious sequences (action movie fans have to sit through 90 very long minutes of no action scenes until the final shootout commences) with a big bang climax that offers more than the usual pyrotechnics, as under the usually dependable Fleischer’s direction he thankfully regains his crafty ways and closes with a sense of intelligence as he gives the viewer a true sense of the frightening chaos felt at the time.

Unfortunately for Tora! Tora! Tora! it had the misfortune of being released in the same year as the more critically acclaimed Patton and M*A*S*H, and subsequently got lost under the radar. When viewed as a whole, the film was too plodding to be entertaining and not informative enough to be thought of as a documentary film. Though it certainly had a few scenes that got a bang for its dollar, and it still might please those who yearn for more than a morsel of truth about Pearl Harbor (something few films about Pearl Harbor have done as well as this one) and prefer getting their info from movies over books. It also distinguished itself by being free of Hollywood’s usual jingoism and racism, and by its even-handed approach did a good turn for relations with our current ally Japan.