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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 5/26/00

Tora! Tora! Tora!
1970 (1999) - 20th Century Fox

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Tora! Tora! Tora! Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B-/D-

Specs and Features

145 mins, G, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch 1:21:24, at the start of chapter 19), Amaray keep case packaging, theatrical trailers for Tora! Tora! Tora!, Patton, and The Longest Day, film-themed menu screens, scene access (31 chapters), languages: English (DD 4.1) and French (DD Mono), subtitles: English, Spanish, Closed Captioned

"I fear all we have done is to wake a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."

December 7, 1941: a day that will live in infamy. Tora! Tora! Tora! (the Japanese signal to attack), is a documentary-style film that captures the days and hours leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the tragic event that catapulted America into World War II. The aspect of this film that intrigued me the most is that you get both points of view. During the American scenes in the film, there is an American cast and director, and during the Japanese portions of the film there is a Japanese cast and director. Here's a bit of trivia for you: Akira Kurosawa was the producer's first choice for director of the Japanese side, but he declined. Tora! Tora! Tora! is a far cry from the John Wayne WWII motivational glory films from the '40s and '50s - this movie pays great attention to facts and details, and attempts to present an accurate depiction of the events before and during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

As the Japanese prepare for war, they decide that the only way they will have a chance against the U.S. is to cripple the American Pacific Naval Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor. Diplomatic talks with the Japanese lead to dead ends, and the nation officially sides with the Axis powers in Europe. The Japanese skillfully prepare for attack with precise dedication, while the Americans stationed at Pearl Harbor have no idea of the hell about to be unleashed upon them.

On that fateful Sunday morning in December of 1941, the Japanese aircraft trounce the American Naval Fleet with cat-like speed and skill. The Americans are caught off-guard by what many consider a treacherous act by the Japanese. The Japanese take full advantage of the situation - American fighters are parked in groups in the middle of the base airfield to avoid perimeter sabotage... right where they can be easily destroyed on the ground. And the Japanese also know to attack on a Sunday when the men stationed at Pearl Harbor are typically resting. After the attack, the commander of the Japanese forces, Admiral Yamamoto (So Yamamura) has regrets about the attack, and can sense the impending danger of "waking" the American war machine.

While not a great film in the traditional sense of a "movie," Tora! Tora! Tora! is an excellent documentary. The acting is not very good, and the only stars that people will recognize are E.G. Marshall as Col. Bratton, and Jason Robards' very brief role as Lt. Gen. Short. I will say, however, that acting by the Japanese cast surpasses that of the American cast, and I was very impressed with Yamamura's portrayal of Admiral Yamamoto. Tora! Tora! Tora! definitely would be right at home on The History Channel (a.k.a. The World War II Channel), and should be required viewing by WWII buffs and modern history students for its very balanced and objective reporting of December 7, 1941. In no way is this film biased to one side of the conflict, and that makes for very interesting viewing.

The special effects during the attack are actually pretty good. Shot before the age of CGI, there are some obvious instances of model usage and mattes, but overall the action is real, and nicely choreographed. One sequence definitely worth mentioning involves two American pilots that manage to find two undamaged airplanes, and engage some Japanese fighters (chapter 29). The action in the air is very effective, with lots of barrel rolls, sharp turns, and bullet exchanges.

The anamorphic widescreen presentation (this feature is again not listed on the packaging) is framed at 2.35:1, and is very good for its age. The picture is smooth with excellent color fidelity. Fine picture detail is impressive, and there is no noticeable compression artifacting. The overall video presentation still looks slightly dated, and is not quite as sharp as the newest and finest transfers. The Dolby Digital 4.1 audio (4.1 signifies mono rear channels) is effectively spatial, but suffers from dated fidelity. There are some instances of nice directional airplane panning effects, but the ADR dialog and some sound effects are not integrated very effectively into their environments. Low frequency activity during explosions is also conspicuously absent. The only extras to be found on this DVD are theatrical trailers for Tora! Tora! Tora!, and other Fox WWII movies Patton and The Longest Day.

Tora! Tora! Tora! is a fine documentary-style film about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The usage of both American and Japanese filmmakers provides an unbiased film and unique viewing experience, and is uncommon in the genre. The audio and video are slightly dated, but still provide a nice presentation. The lack of extras is disappointing, but at least you won't be caught by surprise.

Greg Suarez
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