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Richard Fleisher, Kinji Fukasuka, Toshio Masuda
Martin Balsam, Sô Yamamura, Joseph Cotten, Tatsuya Mihashi, E.G. Marshall, James Whitmore, Takahiro Tamura, Eijirô Tono, Jason Robards, Wesley Addy, Shogo Shimada
Writing Credits:
Ladislas Farago (book, "The Broken Seal: Operation Magic and the Secret Road to Pearl Harbor"), Larry Forrester, Ryuzo Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, Gordon W. Prange (book)

The incredible attack on Pearl Harbor as told from both the American and Japanese sides.

Tora! Tora! Tora! is the Japanese signal to attack - and the movie meticulously recreates the attack on Pearl Harbor and the events leading up to it. Opening scenes contrast the American and Japanese positions. Japanese imperialists decide to stage the attack. Top U.S. brass ignore its possibility. Intercepted Japanese messages warn of it - but never reach F.D.R.'s desk. Radar warnings are disregarded. Even the entrapment of a Japanese submarine in Pearl Harbor before the attack goes unreported. Ultimately the Day of Infamy arrives - in the most spectacular, gut-wrenching cavalcade of action-packed footage ever. You'll see moments of unsurpassed spectacle and heroism: U.S. fighters trying to take off and being hit as they taxi; men blasted from the decks of torpedoed ships while trying to rescue buddies; savage aerial dogfights pitting lone American fliers against squadrons of Imperial war planes. It's the most dazzling recreation of America's darkest day - and some of her finest hours.

Box Office:
$25 million.
Domestic Gross
$14.500 million.

Rated G

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 4.1
English Dolby 2.0
French Monaural

Runtime: 144 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 5/15/2001

• Audio Commentary by Director Richard Fleischer and Japanese Film Historian Stewart Galbraith
• "Day Of Infamy" Documentary
• Theatrical Trailer
• THX Optimode


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Tora! Tora! Tora!: Special Edition (1970)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 14, 2006)

Was it a coincidence that this 2001 special edition of 1970’s Tora! Tora! Tora! hit the shelves a mere 10 days before Michael Bay’s massively hyped Pearl Harbor arrived on movie screens? I think not. The cover of Tora even subtitles the film “the attack on Pearl Harbor”.

Hey, nothing wrong with a little opportunistic promotion, and I was curious to give Tora a look. I vaguely recall that I saw the film as a kid. I think we watched it in high school history class, but that’s the extent of my remembrance of the movie. For a movie take on the subject, Tora actually sticks much more closely to the facts than do most flicks of this ilk, so its appearance in classrooms shouldn’t be regarded as a negative in any way. Every movie takes some liberties with its subject, but Tora seems to provide a rather accurate telling of the tale.

It also showed something rarely found in movies about the subject: a fairly high degree of objectivity. One might expect to discover a highly pro-American, anti-Japanese screed take in Tora, but that’s not the case. If anything, the slant goes more heavily against the Americans, as they’re often portrayed as bumblers who have themselves to blame for the damage done on December 7, 1941.

On the other hand, the Japanese are largely shown to be efficient, organized and intelligent, and the film goes out of its way to display them in a relatively positive manner. Frankly, I think it goes too far in that attempt. Others may disagree, but I think the bombing of Pearl Harbor was a cowardly act. All may be fair in love and war, but a sneak attack to start a war just doesn’t seem right to me.

Not that you’ll see much of a slant against the Japanese in Tora, as it gives them a rather shiny gloss. I believe that much of the reason for this unusual tone stemmed from the nature of the production. In an innovative move, two different film crews made this film. Japanese filmmakers created those segments while Americans took on the US side of the equation. While the results blend together surprisingly well - there aren’t really any abrupt changes in tone - the overall impression left by the movie is less than terrific.

Tora was a fairly objective production, and it took this attitude to the point where it almost resembled documentary filmmaking at times. The pacing is slow but deliberate as events lead up to their inevitable climax on December 7, and the natural tension inherent in the subject compensated for any lack of excitement conveyed by the filmmakers. In an odd way, I find movies like this or Titanic to be more nerve-wracking than those in which the outcome is surrounded by doubt. I think the lack of options creates a unique atmosphere of doom that can be unnerving.

In any case, the lead-up to the attack gradually introduces us to all of the main figures involved. The emphasis is on military folk from both sides plus a few diplomats thrown in for good measure. We get basic glimpses of each participant but never learn much about them; name, rank and serial number encompass the general tone of the character exposition.

Frankly, much of Tora seemed to be rather mechanical. Perhaps the requirements of the dual-country production led to a liberal dose of conservative filmmaking, but I thought the program often came across as too tame and lackluster. This was world-changing material, but the film usually failed to deliver the fire and passion inherent in it.

On the positive side, some of the air battle sequences were well-executed and fairly exciting, but as a whole, I felt dissatisfied with the climactic attack. I thought the final act lacked the necessary gravitas and was treated too lightly. I really disliked the opening shots of the Japanese as they went after the military; we find a comic tone that felt incongruous and disrupted the drama of the moment.

The jokiness soon disappeared, but it was never replaced with an attitude that communicated the fatal impact of the moment. Sure, we see lots of explosions and destruction, but there’s little indication of the death and injury that accompanied these events. If you watch this DVD’s documentary, you may be shocked to learn exactly how many Americans did perish during the attack. The movie doesn’t portray those aspects of the incident to any satisfactory degree, and it leaves on with the impression that a lot of ships blew up but little else occurred that day.

I guess that’s what happens when a film about the attack on Pearl Harbor gets a “G” rating. No, the flick didn’t need to go to ultra “R”-rated Saving Private Ryan violent extremes, but we should have gotten the impression that someone was hurt during the battle. This program was far too clean and neat to aptly demonstrate the damage done.

On the whole, I can’t say that I disliked Tora! Tora! Tora!, as I felt that it did some things fairly well. It communicated a lot of information in a terse and precise manner, and it provided a quick and solid retelling of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The movie deserves credit because it seems to have stuck largely to the facts and tried to be as truthful as possible.

However, the program featured an excessively objective tone that stripped it of the necessary passion. We get the details and the gist of things but never find any heart or emotion within the actions. Ultimately, Tora! Tora! Tora! provided a decent but lackluster look at the dramatic events that brought America into World War II.

The DVD Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus B-

Tora! Tora! Tora! appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only a few concerns marred the presentation, as the movie usually looked very good.

Sharpness was the only moderate weakness throughout the movie. Wide shots appeared slightly soft, partially due to some edge enhancement. However, most of the flick was accurate and well-defined. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no concerns, and any print flaws that appeared were exceptionally minor. During a few shots, I saw some spots that seemed to be due to a camera problem; these only showed up during the same angles in one scene at sea. I also witnessed light grain during some of the process shots and also when the Japanese fighters take off at daybreak. Otherwise, the print offered virtually no defects. I detected a tiny hair or two, but the film seemed to be free of speckles, grit or other concerns.

Tora used a fairly subdued palette, and the colors could appear somewhat bland at times. However, I thought they seemed fairly accurate and clear, and at times, red and blues looked nicely rich and bright. Black levels were deep and dense, and shadow detail usually appeared appropriately heavy but not excessively thick. Some interiors looked a bit muddy, but these were very small concerns. I found little about which to complain in regard to this transfer.

Also quite solid was the film’s Dolby Digital 4.1 soundtrack. The soundfield provided a good sense of depth and breadth throughout the movie. The forward speakers demonstrated good localization across the channels, as a mix of effects and music popped up usefully from the sides. The film also displayed quite a lot of directional dialogue as well; most of these lines still seemed to stay fairly close to the center, but it was good to hear some attempts to broaden the auditory spectrum. Sounds moved cleanly across the front channels and they blended together quite well.

Surrounds kicked in with a lot of information during appropriate scenes. The battle sequences became very lively and they contributed a convincing atmosphere. The quieter scenes showed less activity, but the rears were well used throughout the movie, especially when one considers the age of the film.

Audio quality seemed to be typical for the era, but it was still relatively positive. Dialogue sounded a bit thin and tinny, but the lines showed no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility, so I had no problems with the speech. Effects were also fairly flat and lifeless. Those qualities reflected the technology of the time, and Tora presented tones that seemed similar to other films from the period. In any case, I thought the effects appeared acceptably clean and accurate. They could have boasted a bit more low-end, but they offered enough depth to work adequately.

Jerry Goldsmith’s score offered the best sound quality. It seemed nicely clear and robust. While the bass didn’t have to kick into overdrive, I still found the music to provide a warm and rich experience. In the end, the soundtrack of Tora! Tora! Tora! won’t compete with newer releases, but I felt it worked well for its age.

Although I never saw the November 1999 DVD of Tora! Tora! Tora!, I’ve heard that the picture and sound quality of the Special Edition release are largely identical. However, this May 2001 disc adds a bunch of supplements that didn’t appear on the older DVD, starting with a running audio commentary from director Richard Fleischer and Stewart Galbraith, an expert on Japanese films. The two were recorded simultaneously for this somewhat screen-specific track. Although he occasionally provides some background information about the actors, Akira Kurosawa’s aborted involvement in the film, and some other production issues, Galbraith mainly interviews Fleischer during this piece.

The result was a satisfying discussion. Fleischer proved to be a good storyteller, and Galbraith asked some useful questions. I enjoyed the segment in which Fleischer told his personal reactions to the real attack on Pearl Harbor, and his reminiscences of his famous animator father Max were quite compelling. Another fun aspect arose when Fleischer discussed the way that he and other participants would bet on what parts of the score would accompany which scenes. Fleischer became entertaining when he stuck to personal anecdotes. Along with a lot of good data about the production and those involved, this became a valuable and informative commentary.

In addition to the film’s theatrical trailer, we find a documentary called Day of Infamy. This 19-minute and 55-second program combined archival footage with new interview clips from historians to provide an overview of the history behind the film. As I mentioned during the body of my review, this piece does a better job of communicating the impact of the attack since it more fully discusses the damage and the death involved. Ultimately, I thought it was a very solid little show that provides a nice examination of history.

We also find the THX Optimode program. As seen on other Fox DVDs like Fight Club and X-Men, this is supposed to be used to set up your home theater to best present the movie on the disc in question. Apparently the Optimode is unique for each DVD on which it's included; unlike programs such as Video Essentials. The Optimode should tweak your set-up differently every time. Frankly, I've been very happy with my already-established calibration and I'm afraid to muck with it, so I've never tried the Optimode. If you lack calibration from Video Essentials or a similar program, or if you're just more adventurous than I, the Optimode could be a helpful addition.

In some ways, Tora! Tora! Tora! is one of the better historical films I’ve seen. It takes far fewer liberties than most, and it gives us a concise overview of a complicated time. However, the movie fails to ignite any spark or passion, and it seems to be excessively objective. In an attempt to give us a balanced look at both the Japanese and American sides of the equation, it loses much of its drama.

As for the DVD, it provided quite strong picture and sound plus a couple of nice extras headlined by a solid commentary. Although I wasn’t wild about Tora! Tora! Tora!, I think it may merit a look for World War II buffs, and those who check out 2001’s Pearl Harbor should inspect it to get a different take on the subject.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.1612 Stars Number of Votes: 31
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