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"The most spectacular film ever made," read the advertising copy when 20th Century Fox released Tora! Tora! Tora! in August 1970. In this case, it was not much of an exaggeration. The producer Elmo Williams and the young studio executive Richard Zanuck, son of Fox mogul Darryl F. Zanuck, envisioned the project as a follow-up to The Longest Day (1962), Fox's well-regarded war film depicting the invasion of Normandy. This time they recreated the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor in painstaking detail, using locations in Hawaii and Japan, vintage aircraft and full-scale replicas of battleships. As Williams and others involved have often quipped, their restaging of the event was more expensive to mount than the original attack itself.
The research of Gordon W. Prange, at that time a military historian at the University of Maryland, bore a formative impact on the script. A former member of General MacArthur's staff in Tokyo, Prange interviewed numerous subjects, including Japanese military officers involved in the attack. He also obtained access to the original log books on both the American and Japanese sides, enabling him to reconstruct a minute-by-minute account of the Pearl Harbor attack. A translated version of Prange's resulting book was first published in Japan in 1966 under the title Tora Tora Tora. Referring to the Japanese code name for the operation, the phrase literally means "Tiger Tiger Tiger." A few years later, Reader's Digest published a condensed version of the book under that same title. (Only in 1981 did a longer edition of the book appear in English, under the title of At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor.) The American and Japanese military also reviewed the script closely for accuracy, and the studio even hired Minoru Genda, the officer in charge of planning under Vice Admiral Churichi Nagumo, as a consultant. News of Genda's presence resulted in protests by the Survivors of Pearl Harbor Association and chapters of Veterans of Foreign Wars.
The first director hired on for the project was actually Akira Kurosawa, whose agreement to film the Japanese sequences was instrumental in securing the necessary financial backing. Richard Zanuck also named Richard Fleischer early on to direct the American sequences and to serve as the director for the film as a whole. At first Kurosawa and his co-writer Hideo Oguni produced a script over 400 pages long, which the studio estimated at four hours of screen time. Concerned about the length, Fleischer and Williams met with Kurosawa in Honolulu and convinced him to cut a number of scenes. The studio was also troubled by Kurosawa's decision to cast amateurs--wealthy Japanese industrialists--in leading roles. When Kurosawa began shooting in December 1967, his behavior on the set only compounded the studio's worries. In his audio commentary on the DVD, Fleischer recalled that on the first day of shooting Kurosawa demanded to repaint a Shinto shrine on the battleship set multiple times because he didn't like the shade of white used. He also insisted on replacing the books in the library with books from the right period, even though they were barely visible. As a result of these and other delays, after two weeks the studio replaced him and announced publicly that he was stepping down due to "fatigue." Ultimately, none of Kurosawa's footage remained in the finished picture.
In his place, Fox hired two younger Japanese directors; Kinji Fukasaku handled the action sequences and Toshio Masuda handled the dialogue sequences. Fukasaku is best known for the violent and controversial Battle Royale (2000) and the Yakuza series Battles Without Honor and Humanity (1972-1974). Before working on Tora! Tora! Tora!, he had directed Black Lizard (1969) and Black Rose Mansion (1969), both starring the popular female impersonator Akihiro Miwa. Toshio Masuda was Nikkatsu's leading director of crime thrillers in the 1960s. He is still little known in the West compared to contemporaries such as Seijun Suzuki, though Velvet Hustler (1967) did eventually receive VHS distribution and Rusty Knife (1958) has since appeared on DVD in Criterion's "Nikkatsu Noir" Eclipse box set. Fleischer recalled that initially, Fukasaku and Masuda didn't provide sufficient coverage of scenes for editing. Accustomed to working with limited amounts of film stock, they tended to film in short fragments rather than shooting master shoots of entire scenes and then shooting additional close-ups and inserts. Thus the first few days' worth of footage left Fleischer and Williams with very little latitude in the cutting room.
If the task of editing together footage shot by separate Japanese and American production units proved inherently difficult, it was hardly the only logistical challenge that the producers faced. An article published in the Los Angeles Times during the time of production stated that the film employed "what is believed to be the largest contract player roster in film history." This included a total 224 actors: 137 Americans and 87 Japanese. At great effort and expense, the studio also tracked down and refurbished a number of World War II fighter planes, mainly Boeing B-17 "Flying Fortresses" and Curtis P-40 Warhawks. For the Japanese A6M "Zero" fighters, the technical crew had to repaint American T-6 Texan planes and equip them with new fiberglass nose cones, since none of the original Japanese fighter planes remained after Japan's armistice agreement. Although no pilots died during shooting, one was killed before shooting began and another died in a crash during practice exercises for the film.
Shooting on Tora! Tora! Tora! finished under schedule in May 1969, but Fleischer and Williams experienced significant delays in post-production due to the extensive miniature and special effects work required. For this production Fox wanted to try out its own front projection system, which other studios were starting to use at the time; the best-known example of this was MGM's 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). Fleischer later stated that he was happy with the final results, though the front projection system was very time-consuming compared to the rear projection method that was more commonly used at the time.
While the film earned 14.5 million dollars in rentals during its initial release, this ordinarily respectable sum hardly offset a negative cost of approximately 22 million dollars, making it the most expensive Hollywood film of the era after Cleopatra (1963) and Hello, Dolly! (1969). The underperformance of Tora! Tora! Tora! only compounded the difficulties Fox was facing after the high-profile flops of Doctor Dolittle (1967) and Star! (1968). The studio executive Richard Zanuck resigned under pressure in December 1970 due to the studio's ongoing financial woes. Since then, the film has found a new life on home video and stands out as one of the most impressive reconstructions of a battle on film.
Producer: Elmo Williams
Associate Producers for Japanese sequences: Otto Lang, Masayuki Takagi, Keinosuke Kubo
Directors: Richard Fleischer (American sequences), Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasaku (Japanese sequences)
Script: Larry Forrester (American sequences), Hideo Oguni and Ryuzo Kikushima (Japanese sequences), based on the books Tora! Tora! Tora! by Gordon W. Prange and The Broken Seal by Ladislas Farago
Director of Photography: Charles F. Wheeler
Photography for Japanese sequences: Shinsaku Himeda, Masamichi Satoh and Osami Furuya
Art Directors: Jack Martin Smith, Richard Day, Yoshiro Muraki and Taizo Kawashima
Film Editors: James E. Newcom, Pembroke J. Herring and Inoue Chikaya
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Special Photography Effects: L. B. Abbott and Art Cruickshank
Technical Advisors for Japanese sequences: Kameo Sonokawa, Kuranoshuke Isoda; Shizuo Takada and Tsuyoshi Saka
Air Operators: Lieutenant Colonel Arthur P. Wildern (Retired), Commander USN George Watkins, Jack Canary
Cast: Martin Balsam (Adm. Husband E. Kimmel), So Yamamura (Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto), Jason Robards, Jr. (Gen. Walter C. Short), Joseph Cotten (Henry L. Stimson), Tatsuya Mihashi (Comdr. Minoru Genda), E. G. Marshall (Lieut. Col. Rufus S. Bratton), Takahiro Tamura (Lieutenant Commander Fuchida), James Whitmore (Adm. William F. Halsey), Eijiro Tono (Adm. Chuichi Nagumo), Wesley Addy (Lieut. Comdr. Alwin D. Kramer), Shogo Shimada (Ambassador Kichisaburo Nomura), Frank Aletter (Lieutenant Commander Thomas), Koreya Senda (Prince Fumimaro Konoye), Leon Ames (Frank Knox), Junya Usami (Adm. Zengo Yoshida), Richard Anderson (Capt. John Earle), Kazuo Kitamura (Foreign Minister Yosuke Matsuoka), Keith Andes (Gen. George C. Marshall), Edward Andrews (Adm. Harold R. Stark), Neville Brand (Lieutenant Kaminsky), Leora Dana (Mrs. Kramer), Asao Uchida (Gen. Hideki Tojo).
by James Steffen
Tora! Tora! Tora! 2-disc Special Edition DVD. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2006.
"Fatigue Halts Film Director." Los Angeles Times, December 27, 1968, p.F8.
Dallos, Robert E. "Young Zanuck Out in Studio Shakeup" Los Angeles Times, December 30, 1970, p.A1.
Diehl, Digby. "'Tora! Tora! Tora!' Shows Both Sides of Pearl Harbor, 1941." Los Angeles Times, April 20, 1969, p.W20.
Fradkin, Philip. "'Mistake' Told in Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor." Los Angeles Times, September 2, 1968, p.3.
Thomas, Kevin. "Dec. 7, 1941: It Happens Again in 'Tora! Tora! Tora!'" Los Angeles Times, August 25, 1968, p.C1.