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Monday, March 26, 2012

Tora! Tora! Tora! Digibook Blu-ray Review

Re-live the story of one of America’s darkest moments through superb visuals and a double sided narrative that will keep you on the edge of your seat.  The classic film Tora! Tora! Tora! comes to Blu-ray from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment was released on December 6th. The winner of the 1970 Academy Award for Best Special Effects Tora! Tora! Tora! was nominated for four more Oscars including Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Editing and Best Sound. Experience Tora! Tora! Tora! through the superb visual quality of Blu-ray for the first time.


Film (4 out of 5 stars) 

After his production of The Longest Day proved to be such a huge hit that it saved 20th Century Fox from the financial ruin that the overruns on Cleopatra had triggered, Darryl F. Zanuck started thinking about making another war movie that was based on a real event.  The only other event other than D-Day that he felt would make a good movie was Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.  Mounting a production this big ended up taking three years because of several factors. The first reason is because the movie was split into two separate productions – one American and one Japanese with researchers on both sides striving to make the most accurate film possible.  Another reason was because they had to find the military equipment, planes, and ships to make the movie.  In some cases like the Japanese Zeros, they had to modify other planes to look like their historical counterpart since they actual planes were destroyed as part of the surrender terms dictated to the Japanese at the end of the war.
The film had a lot of challenges due to the dual productions since Akira Kurosawa was hired to direct the Japanese footage which ended badly since Kurosawa wasn’t used to told what to do and the studios weren’t used to working with an autonomous auteur.  Both sides realized that it wasn’t working out after two years had passed with no footage meeting the studio’s expectations so Kinji Fukasaku and Toshio Masuda were hired to replace Kurasowa.  The quest for authenticity was paramount for the studio and they even brought in Minoru Genda who had been the man who had planned the attack to be an uncredited technical advisor.  Fox decided not to cast the movie with movie stars so that audiences would focus more on the story than who was playing the roles and it also helped keep the costs down.  After all of that time and effort, the movie didn’t do well financially in the United States but  it was a hit in Japan.  Over time, more people have come to appreciate the movie and it’s mostly historical accuracy.  Of course, the 2001 film Pearl Harbor might have helped too.
The film opens with a change of command ceremony for the newly appointed Commander in Chief Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto (Sō Yamamura) taking over the Combined Fleet from Zengo Yoshida (Junya Usami) who’s been named Navy Minister.  The two discuss how America’s embargo is affecting Japan’s national interests since they’ve been cut off from raw materials they desire including oil.  Neither man desires a war with America and they hope that the Army and the politicians don’t ally the country with Germany or go to war against America but of course both eventually come to pass.  When Japan signs the Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy, it’s just matter of time before war begins since Japan viewed the Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor as a constant threat.  Yamamoto decides that the only way the Japan can get the upper-hand is to stage a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in the hope that the American fleet will be consolidated there which would make it easier to destroy them all in one attack.
Across the ocean, American intelligence analysts have been intercepting an increasing number of Japanese transmissions which starts to alarm them but the White House staff remain inactive.  Back at Pearl Harbor, the security has been raised somewhat, with more air patrols happening but other mistakes are being made such as General Short’s (Jason Robards) order to concentrate all of the aircraft in the middle of the airfield which is meant to prevent sabotage but will end up making it even easier for the Japanese to destroy them all during their attack.  Admiral Kimmel (Martin Balsam) also tries to improve their defenses but a lot of the U.S. fleet is in the Atlantic as a safeguard against possible German threats.  Despite his warnings against it, Japan decides to attack America which Yamamoto knows is extremely dangerous.  He believes that the only way Japan can beat America is to take the fight to the mainland all the way to the White House which he knows is highly improbable.
Although the Japanese put on a show of wanting to continue the diplomatic talks between them and the United States, they still trained their men for the attacks and continued their preparations for it.  The Japanese ambassador to the United States is seen asking Tokyo for help in negotiations to avoid war, but getting rebuffed by Army General Tojo (Asao Uchida) who has no desire for a peace treaty.  Ironically, when the Japanese start sending a series of fourteen radio messages to the Japanese embassy in Washington, it’s the Americans who translate the intercepted messages first.  We see the Chief of Naval Operations Harold Rainsford Stark (Edward Andrews) informed of the apparent threat, but he decides not to inform Hawaii until after calling the President.  It’s not until 11:30 am Washington time that Colonel Bratton (E.G. Marshall) convinces the Army Chief of Staff, General George Marshall (Keith Andes), that a serious attack is imminent.
What happens next just compounds the tragedy since the news isn’t delivered to the right people in time since it was a Sunday morning and because of other human and technical errors.  Back in Pearl Harbor, a Japanese midget submarine is spotted and sunk but their report is submitted to headquarters, it’s take seriously by Lieutenant Kaminsky (Neville Brand) but his superior Captain John Earle (Richard Anderson), demands confirmation before raising an alert.  Sadly that’s not the only missed event that could have prevented the tragedy since the Japanese air fleet were seen on radar but dismissed as a threat since they were mistakenly believed to be a group of American B-17 bombers coming in from the mainland.  Washington tried to send a final warning to Pearl Harbor that failed because of atmospheric conditions and their subsequent telegram was overlooked by the base because it wasn’t marked urgent.
And so, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor with three hundred and fifty-three fighters, bombers and torpedo planes in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers.  Seeing that they had achieved complete surprise, they messaged back the code signal Tora, Tora, Tora and commenced their attack. Of the eight U.S. Navy battleships that were damaged, four were sunk including the U.S.S. Arizona (which accounted for over half of the American casualties from the attack with 1,177 deaths).  The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, and one minelayer.   In the end, one hundred and eighty-eight U.S. aircraft were destroyed; 2,402 Americans were killed, and an additional 1,282 were wounded.  It could have been even worse since we see the Japanese fleet commander, Admiral Chuichi Nagumo (Eijiro Tono), refuse to launch a third wave of planes because he was worried about the still absent U.S. carriers that might return and find him exposed.  It’s only after the attack is over, that the telegram from the Pentagon warning them of the attack is finally read.
Back in Washington, the U.S. Secretary Of State Cordell Hull (George Macready), learns of the attack and requests confirmation of it before seeing the Japanese ambassador who is waiting outside of  his office.  Once seen, the Japanese ambassador (Shōgo Shimada), is left stunned and unable to say why the declaration of war was delivered after the unprovoked sneak attack.  The ambassador is cut off by Hull who tells him, “In all my fifty years of public service, I have never seen a document crowded with falsehoods and deliberate distortions on a scale so huge that, until this day, I would have thought no nation on earth capable of uttering them!”  The movie ends with a forlorn Admiral Yamamoto who knows that while he won a victory that day for Japan, it’s just the beginning of a long war.  He also knows from living in America that the fact that the attack occurred before a formal declaration of war was given will only spur the Americans even more.  As he says at the end, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
Tora! Tora! Tora! feels more like a documentary than a regular film thanks to it’s thoroughness in making the movie as historically accurate as possible.  While history buffs like me may appreciate that, many people thought that the movie moved too slowly and spent too much time covering the political landscape before the attack.  By choosing to offer the viewpoints from both sides, it makes the movie longer but provides a better understanding of why it happened in the first place.  While some of the acting is good and some of it isn’t, there’s no denying the technical achievements of the movie.  Filled with some wonderful aerial photography and staged attacks in the real locations, every dollar of the $25 million spent on the film is up on the screen.  Thanks to an agreement with the U.S. military, the film benefits from having access to the real locations, equipment, vessels, and vehicles which adds quite a bit to the movie.  This Blu-ray disc includes both the American theatrical release and the extended Japanese version that adds an additional three minutes or so to the movie.

Video (5 out of 5 stars) 

Fox really outdid themselves with this superb restoration that brings the movie to life like never before.  The 1080p (2.35:1) transfer looks fantastic with a level of detail that wasn’t present on earlier releases.  Colors are more vivid now and the black levels are also much improved with a nice deep level of darkness.  Flesh tones are natural throughout, and there’s no evidence of the film’s age anywhere – no scratches, specks, or anything else that is almost always present for films this old.  All of this restoration didn’t wipe out the natural grain either, as it’s still there giving the movie a nice film-look but it’s not so thick as to be an eyesore.  Fans of the film will be very happy to see this restoration!

Audio (4 out of 5 stars) 

Tora! Tora! Tora! features an excellent new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix that sounds fuller than the previous mix from the earlier DVD release.  This is a front channel heavy mix but there is some rear channel activity on occasion, usually for some subtle directional effects and Jerry Goldsmith’s score.  Dialogue is clear and understandable and there’s easy to read subtitles for the Japanese segments.  This mix sounds very good for a film made in the seventies.

Special Features (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

While much of these extras were featured on the previous Special Edition DVD release, there’s two new additions to this Blu-ray which make it the version to own.  The two new extras are television specials with the first being “History vs. Hollywood” and the second is “Backstory: Tora! Tora! Tora!”  This edition is also a nice digibook that includes a glossy 22 page look at the movie with pictures (some previously unreleased) an essay on the making of the film.  All of the extras are in standard definition which prevented this section from getting a perfect score.
  • Commentary by Director Richard Fleischer and Japanese Film Historian Stuart Galbraith IV – This is an interesting but dry commentary with film historian Galbraith asking Fleischer about the making of the movie. There’s some good info in this commentary but there’s also a lot of dead silence too.  This commentary can only be heard on the American Theatrical Cut.
  • Documentary: Day of Infamy - This is a general overview that lasts about twenty minutes that covers the results from the attack and a look at the base itself.
  • History vs. Hollywood – Tora! Tora! Tora!: A Giant Awakes – One of the new additions and the best extra on this disc, this comprehensive hour and a half documentary is narrated by Burt Reynolds.  It covers everything about the production and has comments from people who were involved in the making of the film and also military experts who talk about how the film compared to actual events. This was very interesting and well done.
  • AMC Backstory: Tora! Tora! Tora! – This is basically the condensed version of the challenges the film had but if you are looking for a concise account of what happened, then this twenty two minute featurette is for you.
  • Fox Movietone News – A collection of ten Movietone shorts that cover the attack and subsequent events.  This was a very cool addition to the extras since it’s nice to see actual footage.
  • Behind the Scenes Gallery
  • Production Gallery
  • Theatrical Trailer

Final Thoughts (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

This is the most in depth look at the attack on Pearl Harbor that takes the time to show both sides of the conflict and also gives the viewers a look at why the United States was so unprepared for the attack.  This new Blu-ray edition is worth upgrading to for the restored picture and sound and for the new extras!
Order your copy today!
 

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