Elmo William, Richard Fleischer and Toshio Masuda's film Tora!, Tora!, Tora! is the best motion picture adaptation of the events surrounding the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
The film is based on two books - At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor by Gordon W. Prange and The Broken Seal by Ladislas Farago. It presents the Pearl Harbor story from both the American and Japanese perspectives
The film begins with the appointments of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto to command the Japanese First Fleet and of Admiral Husband E. Kimmel to command the United States Pacific Fleet based in Pearl Harbor. Scenes alternate between events in Japan, at sea, in Hawaii and in Washington D.C. The Japanese scenes are made more effective by being filmed entirely in the Japanese language (with English sub-titles).
The tension between the Japanese Navy and Army Commands is effectively documented. While opposed to further Japanese expansion, and fearful of raising the wrath of the American people, Admiral Yamamoto continues to make attack plans in the event that the Army's leaders prevail and war with the U.S. becomes inevitable. Meanwhile, U.S. military strategists and intelligence track Japanese military activity and communications, attempting to determine Japan's future plans. Meanwhile, American government officials continue their hopes to maintain the peace as they engage in fruitless negotiations with the Japanese.
As the film progresses, the focused and often brilliant strategy and plans of the Japanese Navy Command are starkly contrasted by an ever-increasing number of blunders on the part of the American military in Hawaii and politicians in Washington D.C.
As the Japanese fleet sails through stormy seas towards Hawaii, they receive the message "Climb Mt. Niitaka", authorizing the attack to proceed. Meanwhile, Kimmel orders his aircraft carriers to sea in order to probe for Japanese fleet movements in the Western Pacific. He decides to leave his slower battleships in port in Pearl Harbor, although the air cover normally afforded by carrier fighter squadrons is lacking.
Conspiracy theorists will revel in this film, which seemingly hints that some in positions of authority in the U.S. government, while suspecting an attack, failed to alert the military commanders in Hawaii in a timely fashion.
Before dawn on December 7, 1941 the attack is launched from six carriers located northwest of Oahu. As the sun rises over the Hawaiian Islands, the Japanese air commander radios his fleet the message "Tora, Tora, Tora" - the code words indicating that no U.S. air cover is noted and that the American fleet is unaware of the impending assault.
The 2001 motion picture Pearl Harbor pales in comparison with this film in depicting the actual facts surrounding the events that launched the United States into the World War II. Interestingly, while Pearl Harbor has been universally praised for its special effects, Tora!, Tora!, Tora! won the 1971 Oscar in that category. The attack sequences in the film are equal to, and in some ways even superior to, those in Pearl Harbor. Although produced over thirty years ago, the special effects in Tora!, Tora!, Tora! hold up very well.
Tora!, Tora!, Tora! is told in a straightforward manner. It does not try to dramatize the lives of its characters. Nevertheless, Martin Balsam and So Yamamura effectively bring to life Admirals Kimmel and Yamamoto.
As America honors the 70th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor in 2011, it also looks back on the events of September 11, 2001. Although separated by many years, these two events have much in common. In both cases the United States was attacked, without provocation, by forces bent on the destruction of freedom. In both cases the powers behind the attack assumed that our nation would crumble and succumb to the forces of evil. In both cases they were wrong.
In the last scene of Tora!, Tora!, Tora!, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto looks at the horizon and says "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve." Sixty years may have passed between the attacks on Pearl Harbor and those on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, but history has in many ways repeated itself. The American resolve does not ever diminish.
The next day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt delivered his famous Day of Infamy Speech.
The DVD release of Tora!, Tora!, Tora! offers a more accurate wide screen version of the film than was previously available on VHS. If you are looking for the best film adaptation of the events surrounding the attack on Pearl Harbor, this is the film for you.