Reviews

The Verdict for 'Tora! Tora! Tora!' Is the Same as the Event It Depicts: Japan 1, America 0

One of the last of the old-fashioned Hollywood blockbusters, Tora! Tora! Tora! offers both pleasure and tedium


Tora! Tora! Tora!

Director: Richard Fleischer, Toshio Masuda, Kinji Fukasaku
Cast: Martin Balsam, Joseph Cotton, So Yamamura, Tatsuya Mihashi
Distributor: Fox
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Release date: 2011-12

Tora! Tora! Tora! is a period piece in two senses of the phrase. One meaning is obvious: the film presents a detailed recreation of the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, and the events leading up to it, at incredible multiples of the cost and preparation time required for the actual event. The second meaning may be less obvious, but is more relevant for contemporary viewers--Tora! Tora! Tora! is one of the last of its breed, an old-fashioned Hollywood epic produced at a time when that style of filmmaking had pretty much worn out its welcome with cinema audiences.

When Tora! Tora! Tora! was released in 1970, it was already a dinosaur in a world that had embraced a new style of film-making exemplified by groundbreaking films such as Bonnie and Clyde and Easy Rider. Dull extravagence was out, grit and “relevance” were in. Attitudes toward life and society had also changed, so a film about the heroism of war was particularly ill-timed, given the increasing opposition to America’s involvement in Vietnam.

Given the perspective of time, however, Tora! Tora! Tora! doesn’t look so bad—it’s no masterpiece, but it has aged better than expected, and offers a lot to enjoy even if it does seem determined to try your patience with its length (2 hours 25 minutes) and determinedly expository dialogue. As is well-known, it’s really two films in one, telling the story of Pearl Harbor from both the American and Japanese points of view.

For my money, the Japanese side of the story, directed by Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasaku, is a lot more interesting than the American side, directed by Richard Fleischer. For one thing, preparing for and going into battle is inherently more dramatic than all the things the Americans were doing instead of preparing for the attack that came. The script and acting on the Japanese side of the film is also a lot more subtle (multi-dimensional characters in a war film—what an idea!), so I'm afraid the verdict for the film is the same as for the attack itself: Japan 1, America 0.

The cast is not exactly all-star, but a fine assemblage of character actors (there was no money in the budget for any Hollywood stars, the one blockbuster element that is lacking in Tora! Tora! Tora!). For the American side you have, among others, Martin Balsam, Joseph Cotton, E.G. Marshall, James Whitmore, Jaaon Robards, and Leon Ames. For the Japanese, So Yamamura, Tatsuya Mihashi, Takahiro Tamura, Shogo Shimada, and Eijiro Tono. They’re all capable professionals who get the job done, and if none of their characters invite the audience to identify with them, that’s the fault of the script and direction rather than the actors.

No doubt film audiences were more patient in 1970 than they are today, but it still takes a long time to get to the action, and the deliberate and didactic way historical events are spelled out with title cards (“With the signing of the Tri-Partite Pact, Japan becomes the third member of the Axis Alliance”) over tableau vivants of the event in question may leave you wondering if you are watching an educational newsreel rather than a feature film. Still, for World War II buffs, there’s a lot of pleasure to be had just watching the events of the attack on Pearl Harbour unfold, pageant-style. The film was made with the cooperation of the Navy, who may have been hoping for a success along the lines of Fox’s 1972 film The Longest Day, as well as a chance to play a role in the blockbuster recreation of one of the few events of World War II that was most popularized for American audiences.

The technical effects are impressive, particularly considering that everything you see had to be staged (no CGI in 1970!), either with models or in reality. A.D. Flowers and L.B. Abbott deservedly won an Oscar for special effects, and Tora! Tora! Tora! was also nominated for Oscars in the categories of art direction, cinematography, film editing, and sound. In small doses, this film can be quite enjoyable; the problem is, again, that it’s almost two and a half hours long, and most of that is taken up with scenes of people talking to each other, alternating with impressive but static panoramas accentuated by a determinedly old-fashioned score by Jerry Goldsmith that never misses a chance to scream at you: “This is really important!”

The Blu-Ray release of Tora! Tora! Tora! will appeal most to people who are already fans of the film, or who are interested in it because of the historical events portrayed. Fox has packaged the disc in a handsome, book-format case, with 22 pages of notes including information about the featured aircraft, the production process, and the principal characters in the historical events and the actors who play them in the film. The disc itself includes a generous package of extras, including a commentary track by Fleischer and film historian Stuart Galbraith IV, the "extended Japanese version" of the film (about four minutes longer), a documentary about the attack, an AMC Backstory feature on the film, a making-of documentary, a collection of Fox Movietone newsreels about the attack, two galleries of photos, and the original theatrical trailer.

5

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image