Cooperative movie productions have become fairly common in Hollywood. Studios pool their resources, minimize risk by sharing the production costs, even if it means sharing credits with your competitor. In business terms that is a major step, as anyone can imagine, but now imagine, for a moment, a film that unites not only two movie studios, but two nations. The 1970 film, "Tora! Tora! Tora!" was a co-production between an American studio and Japanese filmmakers. These diverse parties converged to tell the ultimate story about the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The film is considered a classic by many and is now making its way to Blu-Ray Disc, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.
The film truly defines the term "co-production" as it tells the story of the events that lead to the bombing of Pearl Harbor from both sides. This is essentially two films that slowly intertwine to tell one story. The American forces are lead by Admiral Kimmel (Martin Balsam) and the Japanese are lead by Admiral Yamamoto (So Yamamura). We see the Japanese preparing for the attack -- first discussing their reasons for the attack, then testing their bombers, and finally making their final plans. We also witness the activities of the American forces leading up to the bombing. Despite the fact that there have been warnings and tell-tale signs, the American's refuse to believe that the Japanese would pull such a stunt or that Pearl Harbor itself is vulnerable. To this end, we see that Pearl Harbor is indeed vulnerable, and that a great deal of hardware (boats, planes, etc.) and manpower are all placed in a small area, that if destroyed, could deal quite a blow to the U.S. forces.
What makes this film work is that the audience knows that Pearl Harbor is going to be bombed successfully by the Japanese forces. (And if they didn't know that, shame on them.) This creates a great deal of tension in the film. The film is long - almost three hours - and most of that time is spent showing the Japanese preparing for the bombing and the U.S. forces doing nothing about it. The build-up is slow and meticulous, but it makes the film very entertaining.
The work of American director Richard Fleischer and Japanese directors Kinji Fukasaku and Toshio Masuda blend almost seamlessly in the telling of their story. If this were fiction and we weren't sure if the mission was going to be a success or not, it would be a different movie. As it stands, you find yourself rolling your eyes at the short-sightedness of the U.S. commanders, and yelling things like "They're coming! Move your planes!" at the screen. I had the same feeling while visiting the memorial and museum at Pearl Harbor some time ago. It is hard to imagine, how our troops allowed themselves to be blindsided like this, when there were warning signs all over the place.
The other great thing about the film is it's dedication to authenticity. As I said, the film takes its time in telling the story and it doesn't leave out many of the historical facts. The battle scenes in the film are also very well-staged, obviously taking much time and planning, especially considering the antique weapons which are being used. Also, the film doesn't try to shade or hide anything. The film openly shows that the U.S. forces were not prepared for the attack. It also portrays the reasons that the Japanese planned the attack in the first place, dealing with issues like traditions in battle and their fears about the changes taking place around the world.
The film does an excellent job of balancing the story. While the Japanese are condemned for their attack, the bravery of the Kamikaze pilots and the cunning of the strategists are portrayed well. Also, while the Americans come off looking somewhat ill-prepared, we do get to see those who sensed something was going to happen and tried to do something about it. The Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment presentation of "Tora! Tora! Tora!" on this high definition version is quite spectacular.
Remastered and presented in a stunning 1080p high definition transfer, restoring the movie's original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, you will find on this disc, an image that is bold and clear, offering a remarkable amount of detail throughout.
True, the film looks like a movie that was shot thirty years ago -- it lacks the crispness of more modern films -- but that is unavoidable. However, this doesn't detract from the viewing experience. The film has been nicely color balanced. There is a lot of grey (boats, planes) and beige (uniforms) in the film, so the splashes of color (the insignia on the Japanese planes) stand out all the more powerfully. With deep blacks, the image has good visual depth and devoid of compression artifacts, it simply makes for a wonderful showing.
"Tora! Tora! Tora!" features a newly remastered DTS 5.1 HD Master Audio track that is surprisingly active and dynamic. The sound of the propeller-driven planes flying from side-to-side and then behind the viewer creates a unique sonic experience, and during the battle scenes in particular, you will find the soundfield immersive and all-surrounding. During the quieter passages of the film, surround usage is at a minimum, creating a track that is most front-loaded with dialogue, but overall, this is a solid remix.
Also on the disc, you will find a commentary track by director Richard Fleischer and Japanese film historian Stuart Galbraith IV. The track is filled with valuable insights and information, much of it relating to the unusual collaboration that was at work here.
Also included is the documentary "Day of Infamy," and a look at History vs. Hollywood" as "Tora! Tora! Tora!: A Giant Awakes."
the AMC Backstory documentary is also included on the disc, as well as an extensive production gallery and behind-the-scenes photos.
For the history buff among you, the disc also offers something absolutely stunning, a large collection of Fox Movietonews relating to the attack of Pearl Harbor and the war with Japan.
This Limited Edition release features a booklet with rare photographs and information, adding further to the appeal of this release.
"Tora! Tora! Tora!" has always been a film that needs to be seen. It is about as close to a history lesson as Hollywood can get, giving a fair and somewhat unbiased shot at the events that unfolded on that fateful day. This Blu-Ray presentation is marvelous and should definitely go into anyone's collection.