Tora! Tora! Tora! is far superior to any other movie ever made about Pearl Harbor. In fact, it is one of the absolute best movies ever made about World War II. It is a classic motion picture in its own right.
On a scale of 1 to 5, it really merits a 10.
There have been several treatments of the famous battle (as one-sided as it was), including the recent (and crummy) "Pearl Harbor" (2001). This is the best.
As other reviews have pointed out, the attack was an extremely successful one for the Japanese from a military standpoint. By 1941, the only check on Japanese expansion in the Pacific was the United States Navy. Yamamoto's plan was bold and creative, but it depended a lot upon luck, as the film and the book point out. The United States had installed a radar facility that operated part-time, and did detect the first wave of incoming Japanese planes. The US was more concerned with sabotoge, and parked their planes closely together. The Japanese mini-submarine that was detected and sunk off Pearl Harbor should have raised alarms, but didn't.
It all points to a fundamental principal of war. Everyone got complacent. We thought Pearl was too far from Japan to attract an attack of that magnitude. We thought we would see the fleet or at least the Japanese planes long before they would present a threat. Our technology (radar) provided an extra safeguard, but wasn't properly used. Our cracking of the Japanese diplomatic code provided an extra sense that we would know of an attack prior to it happening.
I've read the transcript of the congressional inquiry into the attack that was undertaken in the late 1940s. It is fascinating. They point out one of the reasons we were complacent. There had been 'war warnings' sent out several times in late fall 1941, warning of an imminent Japanese attack somewhere in the Pacific. Nothing happened. This bred a laissez-faire attitude toward imminent attack.
The only thing that saved the US Navy was the US carriers were at sea, and that main target of the Japanese escaped unharmed, a fact that was to be of great importance to the subsequent conduct of the war.
Some reviewers here have expressed surprise that the US was so badly fooled. One reviewer here calls the US's actions 'slipshod and arrogant'. Huh? We prepared for the danger that we expected, not something nobody believed could have occurred. 'Blithely oblivious'? Again, incorrect, as the proceedings of the congressional investigation have pointed out. 'Dry and boring'? What movie did that reviewer watch? 'Incomprehensible decision' to park the planes closely together? How about the dangers of sabotage? 'We didn't expect an attack'? Not accurate at all. The US was painfully aware of the danger Japan presented.
The US attitude is understandable, though, when you realize they were viewing a far-off war in Europe, and no one then imagined a war in their own backyard. It is hard to expect the unexpected.
Very Highly recommended!
This movie was directed by several directors including Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasuka, but the American version (yes, there is a Japanese version) gives the credit to veteran director Richard Fleischer. Based on Gordon W. Prange's "Tora! Tora! Tora!" and Ladislas Farago's "The Broken Seal", the film accurately depicts the events on both sides of the Pacific leading up to the stunning attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet on Sunday, December 7, 1941.
Even though it covers an 18-month period between Admiral Yamamoto's (Soh Yamamura) initial planning for Operation Hawaii and the attack itself, Tora! Tora! Tora! (the title refers to the code used to inform the Japanese that the Americans had been caught by surprise) never drags or seems dull. I learned, for instance, that Japanese Ambassador Nomura was a skilled and honorable diplomat who did not know what his country's military leaders were planning, and that he hoped to avoid war. I was also stunned by how General Walter C. Short (Jason Robards) was so preoccupied by the threat of sabotage from Hawaii's 125,000 Japanese inhabitants that he foolishly parked all the bombers and fighters in Hickam and Wheeler Fields in neat rows, supposedly to make them easier to guard but actually making them sitting ducks.
What amazed me about watching this movie is how clueless Pearl Harbor's defenders were on that Sunday morning. Though many people think the first shot of the Pacific War was fired by the Japanese, it was actually fired by the USS Ward on a Japanese midget submarine trying to sneak into the harbor. This happened roughly an hour before the first bomb fell on Battleship Row. I would have thought that the report of an unknown submarine being fired upon in a restricted area would have alerted the whole fleet. Wrong! American officers in Oahu were so certain that the Japanese would be spotted long before they could launch a strike that Captain James Earle (Richard Anderson) asks for confirmation before he tells his superiors. This does not make Adm. Husband E. Kimmel (Martin Balsam) very happy and I thought he was very angry that the Ward's initial report did not reach him in time.
The movie makes clear to the audience that history often hinges on small but significant details. Who would have thought that the fate of two great nations would be decided by a diplomat's slow typing speed, or that a report of a large radar blip off to the north of Oahu would be received with the phrase, "Well, don't worry about it."? It sounds like bad fiction but everything in this movie is based on historical fact.
Tora! Tora! Tora! has incredible battle scenes. Most of the aerial scenes were shot using either vintage planes or realistic replicas (because there are no flying Zero fighters, T-28 Texans were modified to look like the famous Japanese planes). The Navy actually allowed 20th Century-Fox to film in and around Pearl Harbor and rented a World War II era carrier that was to be decommissioned to serve as a stand in for the Japanese carrier. Clever editing, good miniature effects and carefully built live action sets give the illusion that one is actually reliving the Day of Infamy.
The 60th Anniversary Special Edition DVD was released around the same time as 2001's Pearl Harbor. It features an all new 20-minute documentary, director's commentary, the orginal theatrical trailer, and restores the movie to its original widescreen format. It has four audio tracks (English 4.1, the commentary, English Dolby Surround, French Mono), and subtitles in English and Spanish.