Monday, April 30, 2012

Penny Thoughts ‘12—Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970) ***

G, 144 min.
Directors: Richard Fleischer, Kinji Fukasaku, Toshio Masuda
Writers: Larry Forrester, Hideo Oguni, Ryûzô Kikushima, Gordon W. Prange (story “Tora! Tora! Tora!”), Ladislas Farago (story “The Broken Seal”)
Starring: Martin Balsam, Soh Yamamura, Joseph Cotten, Tatsuya Mihashi, E. G. Marshall, James Whitmore, Takahiro Tamura, Eijiro Tono, Jason Robards, Wesley Addy, Shôgo Shimada, Frank Aletter, Koreya Senda, Leon Ames, Junya Usami, Richard Anderson, Kazuo Kitamura, Keith Andes, Susumu Fujita, Edward Andrews, Bontarô Miake, Neville Brand, Ichirô Ryûzaki

“Tora! Tora! Tora!” was made at the end of an era in Hollywood. War films had long been a staple in Hollywood filmmaking. Like the western, it was once a very popular genre. “Tora! Tora! Tora!” was the last of its breed, a war film that propped up our patriotism. It reflected that once we needed to embrace war to succeed as a country. Vietnam changed that, and war films fell out of popularity. They barely even returned as their own genre until almost a decade later when “Apocalypse Now” started the trend of presenting the horrors of war above the patriotism that once convinced teenagers to lie about their age to go to combat for their country.

“Tora! Tora! Tora!” was also a transitional movie of sorts. It wasn’t satisfied with just touting the patriotism of American troops. It showed both sides of the conflict. It was a bold experiment in factual filmmaking by having two crews tell both the American side of how Pearl Harbor occurred and the Japanese side. Using Japanese actors, directors and writers to tell the Japanese end of the story and Americans to tell the American, “Tora! Tora! Tora!” isn’t so much an entertainment as it is a history lesson.

The screenplay ticks off all the important points of both sides of the conflict. It raised the curtain on how war conflicts develop. It’s fascinating to learn details like the fact that the Japanese accidentally proclaimed their act of war after the attack on Pearl Harbor had begun. They meant to play by the rules of the Hague Convention on proper warfare practices, but because their declaration had been sent in code to their ambassadors, who weren’t able to crack it in time for their own deadline, the Americans already knew about the declaration and the attack before the ambassadors could tell anybody.

The movie does suffer on the dramatic end of its story a little. Characters are not given any chance to develop. This makes it confusing in keeping straight who is who and what their significance is to the attack if you are not intimately familiar with the material. The Japanese filmmakers keep their end of the story simpler and easier to follow. But, the whole experience is enlightening for those interested in just what went down leading up to and on that infamous day in American history.

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