A 1970 motion picture recounting the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese during World War II, Tora! Tora! Tora! was at the time of its release the second most expensive movie ever made, just behind Cleopatra in actual cost. Based on the historic novels Tora! Tora! Tora! by Gordon W. Prange and The Broken Seal by Ladislas Farago, the film recounts what happened on both the American and Japanese sides. The title refers to the Japanese code word which signaled the launch of the attack.
The idea for making the film came from Elmo Williams, who was hoping for another financial triumph along the lines of The Longest Day. From the beginning it was planned as a film of monumental scale that would examine the events of Pearl Harbor in precise detail. A tremendous amount of research had been done by Dr. Gordon Prang and his staff at the University of Maryland. (Prang had been appointed by General Douglas MacArthur as the official historian of the Pacific war, and had the advantage of being fluent in Japanese). In order to further enhance the authenticity of the film, Akira Kurosawa, Japan's most famous and possibly greatest director, was hired to direct the Japanese scenes.
The production faced numerous problems. For example, apart from one destroyer, nothing was left of the original Japanese fleet, requiring the filmmakers to construct a Japanese aircraft carrier and a plywood battleship and have them sent to Japan for filming. With no Japanese Zeroes available, 28 Vultee AT-6's were "stretched" six feet so that they would appear to be the same size and were then fitted with appropriate cowlings, windshields, and wheel skirts (with the result that parts were always falling off during flight).
Nor was there much left of the American fleet either, now that it had been mothballed. One floating battleship set alone cost $1 million to construct. The Fox miniature department built models of 19 Japanese ships and ten American ships at a scale of three-quarters of an inch to the foot, thereby creating forty-foot "miniatures." They also had to build to scale the Battleship Row docks and surrounding land areas.
Tora! Tora! Tora! took two years to prepare under the supervision of Williams. American director Richard Fleischer was called in during the last six months of preparation before shooting was to begin. He met with Kurosawa and Williams in Hawaii. Williams wanted Kurosawa to cut several scenes from the script that he felt were extraneous. Kurosawa was reluctant but agreed. Kurosawa also felt it was important to depict the Japanese military as all spit and polish, formal, correct, obsessed with protocol and ceremony, while Fleischer would depict the American military as relaxed, laid-back, a bit sloppy, and casual.
Ultimately, the producers of the film spent $25 million to reenact the attack on Pearl Harbor, more than the Japanese had spent to launch it. The attack itself was a complex sequence requiring smoke, flames, explosions, planes diving or bombing or crashing, torpedoes running; hangers, planes, and ships blowing up; anti-aircraft and machine guns firing, as well as actors in almost every shot.
The American sequences were scripted by Larry Forrester and starred Martin Balsam as Admiral Kimmel, Joseph Cotten as Secretary of War Stimson, E.G. Marshall as Lt. Colonel Bratton, James Whitmore as Admiral Halsey, and Jason Robards as General Walter C. Short. The Japanese sections were scripted by Hideo Oguni and Ryuzo Kikushima and starred Soh Yamamura as Admiral Yamamoto, Tatsuya Mihashi as Commander Genda, Takahiro Tamura as Lt. Commander Fuchida, Eijiro Tono as Admiral Nagumo, and Koreya Senda as Prince Konoye.
In Japan, Kurosawa began to resent the intrusion of five American production people sent to oversee things. He insisted on shooting interior scenes from 4:00 p.m. to midnight. He did not like the American design of the prefabricated structure sent to Toeiga Studios to serve as his administration building. He cast the heads of several large corporations in bit parts (in hopes that they might finance his next film), and insisted that everyone on the crew wear special Tora! Tora! Tora! jackets and regulation Navy caps and salute the actors whenever one passed by.
When the first day of shooting came, set inside a shrineroom on board a battleship, Kurosawa decided it was the wrong shade of white and insisted that every member of the crew work to repaint it. He became obsessed with endless minor details while overlooking a major one, despite warnings from the Americans. The plywood battleship sent over from America was being constructed facing the wrong direction.
Soon the Japanese portions were falling far behind schedule. The studio became intolerant of the delays, and Kurosawa was receiving threats from politically important people who did not want the film to be made at all. (On his way to the set, Kurosawa would lie down on the floor of the limousine to avoid assassination). As he became more abusive, his own crew started to turn against him. The story was released that illness forced him off the picture, but the truth was the studio had finally had enough and fired him. Two commercial Japanese directors, Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasaku took over.
Perhaps it was because of the Japanese involvement, but the final film downplays the real reasons for the United States contemplating war with Japan before the attack. There is no mention of Japanese aggression in China or the much-publicized atrocities committed by the Japanese during their occupation. The film also fails to portray opposition to the war from within the ranks of the Japanese military.
Six servicemen were injured during the filming of the attack, and after rumors circulated of Naval carriers transporting props for the shoot, Representative John M. Murphy of New York proposed legislation to forbid the military to participate in commercial motion picture production.
St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, 2002 Gale Group.