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Film: Tora! Tora! Tora!
The Japanese military planning the attack on The Big Board.

I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve.
Admiral Yamamoto

Tora! Tora! Tora! is a 1970 film telling the story of the attack on Pearl Harbor from both the American and Japanese perspectives. Unusually, the film was made by two almost independent units — an American unit directed by Richard Fleischer, and a Japanese unit directed by Kinji Fukasaku and Toshio Masuda. This technique would be repeated with its pseudo-sequel Midway. The original idea was to blend the two stories seamlessly, until Fleischer realized it would be better to let the two halves retain contrasting styles.

The film is noted for being remarkably even-handed in an era in which war movies were often gung-ho and treated the Germans/Japanese as disposable Mooks at best and Always Chaotic Evil at worst. It may have helped end that era.

It was filmed before CGI was invented. The scenes of the bombing of Pearl Harbor were among the most complex ever successfully attempted before CGI; specially modified American planes "played" Japanese aircraft, and real explosions were choreographed.

Tora! Tora! Tora! is a member of the "historical" school of war movies, alongside The Longest Day, A Bridge Too Far and Battle of Britain. The filmmakers didn't use the bombing of Pearl Harbor as a backdrop to a fictional story; the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the events leading to it, in their full sweep, is the story.

The title is the Japanese code-word used to indicate that complete surprise was achieved. "Tora" is Japanese for "tiger".

Compare Pearl Harbor.


This film provides examples of:

  • Anachronism Stew - Mostly averted, aside from some modern ships in the harbor...but when the Japanese aircraft fly over the island en route to the harbor, they memorably fly over the huge white cross erected at Schofield Barracks to commemorate the people who died in the attack they are supposedly about to make. A microwave relay tower is also clearly visible in the same shot.
  • Armchair Military - The US top brass seem very reluctant to act on intelligence.
    • Truth in Television. The US military of the time didn't believe the Japanese could actually mount a successful attack on the Pacific Fleet. They even ignored Claire Chennault's good intelligence on the now-infamous A6M Zero fighter, saying that an aircraft with such capabilities was impossible. Even directly after the attack, the top brass, soldiers, and even many civilians thought the Japanese only managed to carry out the attack with German help.
      • This attitude might have been helped by a popular racist stereotype of the time, that claimed Asians couldn't make good pilots because their epicanthic folds gave them poor eyesight. Pearl Harbor killed the hell out of it.
  • Attack Its Weak Point: A Japanese bomber drops an armor-piercing bomb that sets off the powder magazine of the battleship Arizona. The resulting explosion blows the ship apart, resulting in over a thousand officers and crew killed.
  • Awakening the Sleeping Giant: Trope Namer, and Admiral Yamamoto's memorable closing lines when he hears that America learned of the attack before they could deliver their official declaration of war.
    • Beam Me Up, Scotty!: There's no evidence that Yamamoto spoke the "sleeping giant" line in real life, but it did sum up his feelings about the war pretty well.
  • Badass Bystander: Doris Miller, a black Navy cook, takes up a machine gun on the West Virginia after the gun crew are killed, and manages to shoot down one of the Japanese planes.
  • Battle Epic: truly epic, with filming in the US, Japan, Hawaii, culminating in an actual recreation of the Pearl Harbor attack filmed on location using more than thirty airplanes.
  • Captain Obvious - Justified. An officer who tried to pass up a warning earlier that morning angrily points out the window during the attack as proof to one of the Obstructive Bureaucrats there was reason to be concerned about an attack.
    Lieutenant Kaminsky: "You wanted confirmation, Captain? Take a look! There's your confirmation!"
  • Coming In Hot: Hobo One's B-17 is unable to lower one of their landing gear due to damage from a Japanese fighter, so they bring it in on one wheel and drop the other wing right onto the pavement. Another B-17 attempts to land but is waved off because they've got a fighter on their tail.
  • Curb Stomp Cushion - The Japanese achieve total surprise in their attack on the American military installations, and the ensuring fight generally proceeds the way you'd expect it to from there, with some notable exceptions, including planes shot down by anti-aircraft fire, and a small handful of American fighters making it into the air to shoot down some of the attackers.
  • Crying Wolf: Decrypted Japanese diplomatic messages, plus observations of their military movements, lead the US military to think Hawaii and the Philippines are going to be attacked on 30 November, 1941. When the actual attack is predicted a week later, there is an uphill battle to get anyone to take it seriously.
  • Danger Deadpan: The officer in command of the battleship Nevada. The base is under fierce attack, his ship is in flames and sinking, and he is calmly issuing orders maneuvering the ship through the harbor and beaching it so as to avoid blocking the channel.
  • Dramatic Irony: See Crying Wolf.
  • Eagle Land: Most of the Japanese officers see America as Type II. Yamamoto, however, sees far more Type I.
  • Every Bullet Is a Tracer - Inverted, oddly enough. There was tracer fire at Pearl Harbor, but not in this movie.
  • Fighter Launching Sequence: Most of the American fighters are destroyed on the ground, including many trying to get into the air. The Japanese get one, though.
  • Friend or Foe: The Japanese force is spotted on radar, and the sighting is called in. The officer who receives the report assumes it is a formation of friendly B-17s expected that morning.
  • Flat Character - One of the problems pointed out in reviews is that few of the people portrayed in the film get any backstory or character definition. Most of the main protagonists can be described in single words (Admiral Kimmel is worried, Admiral Yamamoto is brooding, and so on). The fact most of them are wearing military uniforms makes it hard to distinguish who's supposed to be who anyway unless you've studied the attack fairly thoroughly.
    • The US cast consists almost entirely of character actors, reportedly because the producers felt that stars would distract from the documentary feel of the film.
  • Foregone Conclusion - Textbook example.
  • Get Out: Cordell Hull basically says this after reading the memorandum from Nomura:
    Hull: In all my fifty years of public service, I have never seen a document so crowded with infamous falsehoods and distortions, on a scale so huge that I never imagined until today that any government on this planet was capable of uttering them.
    Nomura: (pleadingly) Mr. Hull...
    Hull: (wearily) Go!
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking - Related to Flat Character. You can tell that Admiral Halsey is a no-nonsense badass because he spends a high-level Navy briefing chewing on and waving around a big ol' cigar.
  • Hollywood History - Largely averted, as the film attempts to portray real events realistically.
  • Imperial Japan - arguably their finest hour, for a given value of "finest".
  • Interservice Rivalry: Quite a bit of political in-fighting between the Imperial Army and Navy in the lead-up to the attack.
  • Let's Split Up, Gang: Hobo Flight, a formation of unarmed B-17s arriving from California, scatters when they encounter the Japanese attack. Justified in this case, as the bombers are unarmed and have no escorts, so splitting up is their only hope of any of them surviving as a formation of unarmed bombers would be an irresistible target to the Japanese fighters.
  • Majored in Western Hypocrisy: Inverted. Admiral Yamamoto was a liaison officer in the US, and studied at Harvard, and declares that the Americans are a proud and just people.
  • More Dakka: The American P-40 Warhawk fighters are shown tearing into Japanese bombers with their six machine guns.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Admiral Yamamoto.
  • Oh, Crap: An American flying teacher's reaction when her training plane is suddenly surrounded by numerous Japanese warplanes heading for Pearl Harbor.
    • Yamamoto, (as shown with sleeping giant line) when learning that the Pearl Harbor attack occurred before a formal declaration of war could be delivered to the U.S. Realizing that the U.S. would undoubtedly enter the war, plus the fact that the key battleships and hangars were not destroyed in the attack, he knows that Japan is basically screwed in terms of winning the war.
  • One Sided Battle - Except without the heroes showing up to save the day.
  • Point Defenseless: The American defenders are caught by surprise, and the Japanese attackers are on top of them before they can open fire. Even so, they still manage to tag a few of the enemy planes.
    • Once two Army pilots get up in the air, the tail gunners on the Japanese planes prove unable to deter them.
  • Poor Communication Kills - Admiral Stark dithers instead of informing Kimmel of the Japanese ultimatum. An Army officer in Washington fails to loop his Navy counterpart in on the fact that they are trying to pass a warning message to the US forces in Hawaii, due to the assumption that the Navy personnel would face the same difficulties they were in passing the message along.
    • It gets worse: They send the message by telegraph, but they don't mark it urgent, so the message sits in a pile for some time before it is delivered — after the attack.
    • Radar spotted the Japanese first wave on its way in; when the crew report it, they are told it's the expected B-17 flight, and not to worry about it.
    • The Japanese ultimatum ending diplomatic relations did not contain an explicit declaration of war, So the US Intelligence officers who knew something was going on (especially once the Embassy was ordered to destroy their code machines) had a hard time convincing their superiors of the urgency of the situation, especially since they'd raised a false alarm the weekend before.
      • On the Japanese side, the ultimatum was vague enough that the ambassador himself did not realize the urgency of delivering it on time, and as the Foreign Ministry had decreed that only senior diplomats could process it and none of them were skilled typists the document took a long time to prepare and was not delivered until hours after the attack, inspiring a Roaring Rampage of Revenge by the Americans.
  • Puppet King: The Emperor is opposed to war with America. And as all the power in the government is held by the Cabinet, the Emperor's opinion carries shockingly little weight.
  • Rays from Heaven: Lieutenant Commander Fuchida notices the morning sun breaking through the last of the storm clouds, and remarks to his comrades that its rays remind him of the Japanese victory flag that was raised when they launched from the carriers. This is regarded by all the Japanese pilots as a good omen: in effect, the blessing of heaven upon their mission to ravage Pearl Harbor.
  • Reading The Enemy's Mail: The American military has the capability to decrypt Japanese diplomatic codes, but this capability is kept very very secret. The President is actually removed from the list of people authorized to handle the decrypted messages after one of his staff members improperly disposes of a decrypted message. This adds to the information lag that contributes to the Americans being unprepared for the attack.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic - the DVD Commentary goes into some detail on a few real events left out of the movie simply because they seemed too over the top to have actually happened.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Some sources claim one of the five B-17s used in the film actually had a landing gear failure so they rushed a film crew to the airfield to capture the emergency landing while the pilots circled to burn off fuel. Note that the footage of the actual one-wheel landing is lower quality than the rest of the film. Other sources state this is not true, however.
    • The famous scene of the P-40 veering out of control and plowing into the middle of a line of parked planes was an accident (it was supposed to just blow up). The stuntmen seen Outrunning the Fireball really are running for their lives.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: US Secretary of States Cordell Hull is not amused to receive the Japanese ultimatum after the attack on Pearl Harbor. See Get Out above.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: A base commander, wanting to leave at least some of his planes protected from air attack, sends small detachments of fighters to various outlying airfields. Two pilots, Welsh and Taylor, assume that they are being sent to Haleiwa Field as punishment for fleecing their fellow pilots in poker games. Instead, this assignment allows them to be the only two American pilots shown engaging the enemy in the air. In Real Life they were decorated for it.
  • Red Alert: Three times in the film:
    • The Americans in Hawaii go on full alert when available intel suggests that the Japanese are going to attack... on 30 November, 1941. Obviously, it turns out to be a false alarm.
    • The USS Ward spots the periscope of a Japanese midget submarine attempting to follow an American ship into the harbor. They go to General Quarters, then close with the submarine and destroy it. Their message warning the higher-ups of the encounter is not passed along fast enough.
    • Finally, when the Japanese attack, the Americans finally sound the alarm, but it's too little, too late.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: A biplane with a student and instructor pilot are doing their own thing when the Japanese bombers overtake them. The instructor pilot and one of the Japanese pilots stare at each other for a few long moments before the instructor rolls the biplane into a dive and gets the hell out of there.
    • At Hobo One's orders, the formation of B-17s (unarmed since they were just on a ferrying mission) scatters when they run into the Japanese aircraft, with the planes making for different airfields in hope of finding a safe place to land.
  • Sitting Ducks: The American planes are grouped together in the middle of the airfields to protect from saboteurs, which only serves them up as perfect targets for the air attack. The Air Corps officers are painfully aware of this, but unable to do much about their orders.
  • Theme Naming: The American battleships were all named for US states. The cruisers and destroyers also had their own themes (cities and troops who died in battle, respectively), but feature far less prominently.note 
  • This Is Gonna Suck: The B-17 flight commander, upon realizing that they have just witlessly flown headlong into World War II.
    Hobo One: What a way to fly into a war. Unarmed and out of gas.
  • This Is Not a Drill - When the news of the attack starts to filter through.
    • No surprise at this. The real attack was the Trope Namer.
  • This Means War! - Obviously.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee - It seems as though the film averts this, given the apparent success of the plan, but Yamamoto admits they didn't get the key targets, and of course the line about the sleeping giant.
    • Admiral Nagumo (as the actual commander of the fleet at the time of the attack) originally admitted that (not the sleeping giant line) and expressed regret at not destroying the military infrastructure in Hawaii along with the battleships and hangars. Somewhat understandable since it was likely the aircraft would be flying back in the dark, and no navy had really developed procedures for nighttime carrier landings at the time.
  • War Is Hell: An old officer watching the Japanese pilots about to take off observes that the men are in such good spirits because they have not yet experienced war.
  • Weapons Understudies - Then-modern (but still 40s or 50s era) missile destroyers and frigates playing smaller ships in the harbor during the attack. Rebuilt American prop trainers as the Japanese aircraft. Late model B-17s portraying earlier models. In a nice touch, however, the destroyer escort playing the USS Ward had her hull number repainted to match Ward's for the film.
  • World War II - Of course.


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El TopoFilms of the 1970sThe Twelve Chairs
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    Works Set in World War IIPearl Harbor

alternative title(s): Tora Tora Tora
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