Few years ago, I sat down to find out the best of World War II movies and collect them. This was much before Netflix had come to India so the idea was to buy Blu-ray disc. Couple of movies I had seen, had figured in the list and many did not. I was thinking that the best WW II movie must be either Great Escape or Bridge on the River Kwai. They were listed but not in the top two. Other movies which I thought were very good like Where Eagles Dare, did not figure in any of the lists.
One movie which I had not seen but I thought would be in the list was Tora Tora Tora. It did not figure in any of the lists. The title was always imprinted in my head and I decided to buy the Blu-ray disc of the movie. But first I should tell you why was this movie in my mind which I had not seen or heard from anyone. The reason was a lost camera.
The first time we held a camera in our hands was in 1973 in Mahabalipuram (The Mahabs Magic), thanks to our friend Nandagopal. Cameras were not made in India those days. They were expensive and the cost of film and printing was beyond the reach of most Indians. It was a folding autographic camera and weighed a ton at least it looked like that to us, school kids.
Soon he (Nandagopal) was gifted with a 110 mm camera which was smaller than the geometry box school kids carry. We fell in love with that. We could not even believe such a small contraption could take photos. But it did. Within a month of acquiring this prized possession, Nandagopal went to Chennai (Madras those days) with the camera. His friend took him to watch a movie called Tora Tora Tora in Safire Theater and Nanda promptly lost the camera there.
JK and I were shocked to hear about the loss of the camera (as if it was ours) and the reason was this movie – Tora Tora Tora. Though we did not know that the movie was about the attack on Pearl Harbour, in terms of result, we must have been shell shocked as much as those residents of Hawaii on the fateful morning of 7th December, 1941.
So it was no wonder the first camera I ever bought was a Hot Shot which looked exactly like the one Nandagopal lost. At last, in the eighties India produced a line of simple ‘aim and shoot’ cameras by a company called Photophone India Ltd. This costed 400 Rupees or about a third of my salary those days.
Tora Tora Tora which was made in 1970s tells the story of the attack on Pearl Harbour from Japanese perspective. America had not joined the war yet but it had imposed severe embargo on movement of cargo in the Pacific which had infuriated Japan. This action forces them into an alliance with Germany and Italy (thus forming the axis power).
Japan believes that the only way they could control Pacific Ocean is by attacking Pearl Harbour where America holds a huge fleet. The newly appointed commander-in-chief of the combined fleet Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto is forced to plan the attack (he is skeptical about the after effects of this attack). Air Staff officer Minoru Genda is chosen to mastermind the attack. How they plan and execute the operation is what the movie is about and Tora Tora Tora is the chosen codeword which implies that complete surprise has been achieved.
This movie is not the Great Escape kind of heroic exploits of few individuals. Only serious movie buffs may enjoy a three hour story. But I would still recommend this movie if you are into WW II history. At least this will give a story from other side’s perspective.
Admiral Isoroku, played by So Yamamura has given a sublime performance and so are the actors from on the both sides of the war theater. Only Minoru Genda’s played by Tatsuya Mihashi shows flamboyance like Steve McQueen in the great escape with a villainous laugh (Villain for us and Hero for Japanese).
We also get to see how countries blunder through things before they get their act together. A US colonel asks all the fighter planes to be put together in one place. They are scattered across the island so in the event of an attack not all of them would be lost. The colonel believes that this will lead to sabotage by local Japanese (or people of Japanese origin). The officer says in the event of an attack a hand grenade would destroy the entire fleet. The colonel does not agree and most of them are lost during the attack.
America successfully decodes the communication from Japanese but they are at first reluctant to share the information and when they eventually do with reluctance this was too little too late (a telegram sent to Hawaii is not even marked urgent).
Japan decides to produce the declaration of war half an hour before the attack is to begin. It was to be served at 1.00 PM Washington time. The message to Japanese Embassy was in fourteen parts and some technical glitches results in a delay and when the Ambassador meets the Secretary of State Mr. Cordell Hull (a key figure during the war and Nobel Prize winner for his efforts to form United Nations) bluntly tells the Ambassador to get lost. In plain terms when the attack happened both countries are at peace with one another. So this act of aggression results in America joining the war and the rest is history or at least the World War II history.
The movie is definitely a classic. Even if you had watched Pearl Harbor the 2001 movie, I would highly recommend Tora Tora Tora. The cinematography is just amazing, the acting sublime and you learn a thing or two about the war. And one more thing, has anyone actually seen the movie in a Cinema?
Please watch the trailer here.