For many people, especially those who were confused by complicated politics of Cold War and its traumatising consequences like Vietnam or nuclear race, previous global conflict - World War Two- was considered to be the "good" war. For the last half a century, that sentiment was shared by Hollywood. Reasons are simple - that conflict affected, directly or indirectly, almost every country on the globe, thus providing material for interesting drama and spectacular action. But, most of all, World War Two could be seen as the last global conflict between clearly defined forces of Good and Evil. Such simplistic formula is precious for Hollywood screenwriters, and the fact that the most of the audience already knows who to cheer for, makes their job much easier. As a result, very few Hollywood movies actually tried to approach events of World War Two from the perspective of cold, objective historian. One of such rare exceptions is Tora! Tora! Tora!, spectacular 1970 US-Japan co-production about the event that still haunts relations between those two nations.
The subject matter of the film, as well as the approach, is clearly indicated in the opening titles. The purpose of the movie is to give detailed description of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, based solely on documents and verified historical accounts. That historical event is still very traumatic for American people, despite the fact that it paved the way to the great national triumph. So, it was very unusual from the American authors not only to to co-operate with their Japanese colleagues, but also to even give them opportunity to express their own view on the subject. Perhaps it was because the never ending Vietnam nightmare brought any well-established truths into doubt. In any case, the result is perhaps the most honest movie ever to be made about WWII.
Tora! Tora! Tora! is actually combination of two movie that document the event from two perspectives - Japanese and American. Each segment is written directed by different directors (Japanese by Kinji Fukasaku and Toshio Masuda, American by Richard Fleischer), yet works very good as a whole. First it documents political events that led to the Japanese decision to attack; then the long Japanese preparations for attack and unsuccessful American attempts to predict and prevent their hostile actions; finally, we see the attack itself and its immediate and devastating consequences. In those segments we could see a huge contrast between Japanese and Americans. Japanese are presented as hard working, patriotic, brave and intelligent warriors that carefully prepare for their daring raid, leaving nothing to chance. Americans are, on the other hand, portrayed as bunch of incompetent idiots, with few exceptions whose common sense can't defeat sheer idiocy of military and political red tape.
In entire film, there was very little room for some strong roles. As in many other docudramas, the characters are here simply to illustrate historical facts, not to work as mechanism of plot. The only exception is So Yamamura who gives very realistic, yet humane portrait of Admiral Yamamoto, Japanese fleet leader who organised the attack against USA despite having more than serious doubts about bringing his country to war. However, the most attractive thing in Tora! Tora! Tora! are the scenes of the attack, spectacle that was recreated with great care for the authentic details. That couldn't be done without use of genuine locations and equipment, especially planes. Another thing that helped the authenticity of this movie were "Oscar"-winning special effects, that make the scenes of utter destruction very convincing, even by today's standards. Historical accuracy, something seldom seen in Hollywood, recommends this movie to any viewer who would want to learn something about World War Two.
RATING: 7/10 (+++)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.movies.reviews on October 25th 1998)
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