Monday, 6 March 2017

Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)

2001's Pearl Harbor depicts the wholly fictional lives of two boyhood friends who grow up to be aviators during World War 2.  They're both present during the "day that will live in infamy", where they manage to get their planes into the air and help shoot down a dozen Japanese aircraft (which is almost half of all the actual Japanese losses on the day).  They then participate in the Doolittle raid over Tokyo, which occurred six months later.  During all this, they even find time to get into a love triangle with Kate Beckinsale.  Or so wikipedia tells me, anyway.  It's a Michael Bay movie after all, and I only watch those when they involve oil workers and giant asteroids.

The point of that preamble is to illustrate something that I've mentioned in several reviews recently: the very different approach between modern war movies and those of the 'classic' period from the late 60s and early 70s.  Now to be fair, it's the classic period that's the unusual one, with its focus on the how of events ahead of the who of characters.  Earlier war films were much more in line with those we'd see today.

As you might surmise, Tora! Tora! Tora! is nothing like Pearl Harbor.  Instead it's a pretty rigorously accurate account of the events leading up to the Japanese attack on the US Pacific Fleet.  It shows the divisions within the Japanese command as to the advisability of war, the similar divisions in America about whether an attack was imminent, and the series of coincidences and happenstances that contributed to the operation achieving complete surprise on the defenders: coincidences and happenstances that you'd probably scoff at, if they were fiction.

This film did fairly poorly at the US box office when it was released, possibly because its depiction of the US personnel was not exactly flattering.  It also came in for a scathing from the critics.  Roger Ebert, for one, hated it: it was too slow and the march of events too inevitable, and it didn't have any girls.

From my perspective though, the inevitability of the march of events is the point, as is the stately pace with which they approach.  The attack on Pearl was a calamity for the US, and Tora! Tora! Tora! is in some ways more a disaster film than a war movie, with the catastrophe looming larger and larger until finally it breaks like a thunderclap in the climactic act.

It's not, indeed, a perfect film, but it is most definitely one worth seeing.

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