Tora Tora Tora!
If war becomes inevitable, America would be the most formidable foe that we have ever fought.
I've lived in Washington and studied at Harvard, so I know that the Americans are a
proud and just people.
The film opens with a change-of-command ceremony aboard the Japanese battleship Nagato, flagship for the newly appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet Admiral Isoroku Tamamoto (Soh Yamamura); he takes command from Zengo Yoshida (Junya Usami). The two discuss America's embargo that starves Japan of raw materials. While both agree that a war with the United States would be a complete disaster, army hotheads and politicians push through the alliance with Germany and start war plans, believing the U.S. to be preoccupied with the war in Europe. Their fear of war increases when Japan signs the Tripartite Pact with Nazi Germany and Facist Italy in Berlin, making Japan the third member of the Axis Powers. With the U.S. Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, regarded as a "knife to the throat of Japan," Yamamoto orders the planning of a preemptive strike, believing Japan's only hope is to annihilate the American Pacific fleet at the outset of hostilities.
The film depicts the Japanese and American actions as in Pearl Harbor, commanders debate their exposure to a torpedo attack but realize that torpedoes dropped from an aircraft will fall and submerge at least 75 ft below the surface. Since Pearl Harbor is only 40 ft deep, they feel they have a natural defense against torpedoes. But the Japanese have a plan to overcome this obstacle.
In a major intelligence victory, American intelligence in Washington manages to break the Japanese Purple Code allowing the United States to intercept radio transmissions the Japanese think are secret. American intelligence in Washington is seen collecting increasingly threatening radio intercepts and conveying their concern to a White House staff that seems strangely unresponsive. The American response to high quality intelligence in general appears lax although Pearl Harbor does increase air patrols and goes on full alert well before the raid.
Japanese commanders call on the famous Air Staff Officer Genda Minoru (Tatsuya Mihashi) to mastermind the attack. At Pearl Harbor, although hampered by a late-arriving critical intelligence report about the attack fleet, Admiral Kimmel and General Short do their best to enhance defenses. Short orders aircraft to be concentrated in the middle of their airfields to prevent sabotage. Yamamoto tries to avoid an attack and blames the Japanese Army command for pushing hard for war when peace is still an option. Yamamoto stresses that the United States is a mighty foe who would be extremely dangerous to provoke. In order to defeat the United States, he claims, destroying the U.S. fleet or even capturing Hawaii would not suffice - Japan would have to invade the mainland and dictate terms of U.S. surrender on the White House steps, an eventuality Yamamoto clearly sees as impossible to achieve.
Diplomatic tensions increase between the U.S. and Japan as the Japanese ambassador to the United States is seen asking Tokyo for more information to aid in negotiations to avoid war but getting little or nothing to work with in return. Army General Tojo (Asao Uchida) is depicted as adamantly opposed to any last minute attempts at peace. The Japanese commence a series of 14 radio messages from Tokyo to the Japanese embassy in Washington that will conclude with the declaration of war. But the Americans are translating the radio messages faster than the Japanese embassy. Hence, the Americans know of the attack before the Japanese ambassador informs them.
On the morning of December 7, decision makers in Washington and Hawaii are seen enjoying a leisurely routine while American intelligence works feverishly to interpret the coded transmissions and learns the final message will be received precisely at 1:00pm Washington time. American intelligence notes that the final message instructs the Japanese Ambassador to destroy their code machines after they decode the last of the 14 messages, an ominous point. Attempts to convey this message to American commanders fail because they are enjoying a Sunday of playing golf and horseback riding. Finally, Chief of Naval Operations Harold Rainsford Stark is informed of the increased threat, but decides not to inform Hawaii until after calling the President, although it is not clear if he takes any action at all.
Finally at 11:30 am Washington time, Col. Bratton convinces army Chief of Staff Marshall that a greater threat exists and Marshall orders that Pearl Harbor (and all other Pacific installations) be notified of an impending attack. An American destroyer, USS Ward spots a Japanese midget submarine trying to slip through the defensive net and enter Pearl Harbor, sinks it, and notifies the base. Although the receiving officer, Lt. Kaminsky, takes the report of an attempted enemy incursion seriously, Captain John Earle at Pearl Harbor dismisses it thinking the destroyer's new commander must have been over excited and demands confirmation before calling an alert. Adm. Kimmel later learns of this negligence and is furious he was not told of this enemy action immediately. Just after 7am the two privates posted at the remote radar spot the incoming Japanese aircraft and inform the Pearl Harbor Information Center, but the Lieutenant in charge Kermit Tyler dismisses the report, thinking it is a group of American B-17 bombers coming from the mainland and frankly too tired to care.
The Japanese intend for their breaking off of negotiations (they did not intend to issue a formal declaration of war) to be issued at 1pm Washington time, 30 minutes before the attack. However, the typist for the Japanese ambassador is slow, and cannot decode the 14th part fast enough. A final attempt to warn Pearl Harbor is stymied by poor atmospherics and bungling when the telegram is not marked urgent; it will be received by Pearl Harbor after the attack. The incoming Japanese fighter pilots are pleasantly surprised when there isn't even any anti-aircraft fire as they approach the base. As a result, the squadron leader radios in the code phrase marking that complete surprise for the attack has been achieved, "Tora, Tora, Tora."
Once the attack is launched, America's response is desperate and only partially effective. Upon seeing the Japanese low-level bombers, an American officer instructs his colleague to get the tail numbers so the pilot can be reported for safety violations; he thinks they are American aircraft. The sight of the offending aircraft then deliberately dropping a bomb on the base dispels that misconception. The aircraft security precautions prove a disastrous mistake that allows the Japanese aerial forces to destroy the U.S. aircraft on the ground with ease, thereby crippling an effective aerial counter-attack: all the aircraft on the runways at the major airfields were destroyed spectacularly either as they took off or while they were still parked. Two American fighter pilots race to remote Haleiwa and manage to take off to engage the enemy, as the Japanese have not hit the smaller airfields.
The catastrophic damage to the base is well detailed, with sailors fighting as long as they can and then abandoning sinking ships and jumping into the water with burning oil on the surface. There are also scenes where the Japanese fleet commander, refuses to launch the third wave of carrier aircraft out of fear of exposing his six carriers to increased risk of detection and destruction from the still-absent US carriers. Through the years, this action has been debated as having given the Americans a major break in their efforts to recover from the attack. A third wave would have likely struck the large oil tanks as well as destroyed the dry docks and repair facilities, potentially serious blows which could have crippled the U.S. Pacific Fleet for months by themselves.
At the end of the attacks, with the U.S. base in flames, its frustrated commanders finally get the Pentagon's telegram warning them of impending danger. The US Secretary of State , is stunned at learning of this brazen attack and urgently requests confirmation of it before receiving the Japanese ambassador who is waiting just outside his office. In Washington, the distraught Japanese Ambassador, helpless to explain the late ultimatum and the unprovoked sneak attack, is bluntly rebuffed by Hull, who coldly replies to the final Japanese communique, "In all my long years in public service, I have never seen a document crowded with falsehoods and deliberate distortions that, until this day, I would have thought no nation on earth capable of uttering them!"
Finally, Admiral Yamamoto is seen lamenting the fact that the Americans did not receive the declaration of war until 55 minutes after the attack started and noting that nothing would infuriate the Americans more. He is quoted as saying "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve." While this indeed reflects what Yamamoto felt, the quote is now believed to be a fabrication.
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