Originally intended to be co-directed by Akira Kurosawa, this remains the definitive cinematic portrait of the Japanese attack on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawai´ in December 1941.
The main focus here is the build-up to the conflict - the unbelievable blunders which, on the American side, made the attack far more damaging than it need have been and the stubborn-headedness which, on the Japanese side, kept it from being the successful miltary operation that it could have been.
As a result, with over 90 minutes of dialogue and exposition, it's a long wait before the action starts. When it does, it arrives with screaming, explosive intensity. The final attack is portrayed with a vividness that almost compensates for the static nature of the first half, which in addition to being talky suffers from unspectacular, one-key direction (viewers hoping to catch a glimpse of Kinji Fukasaku's distinct visual touches have come to the wrong place).
The most remarkable thing about Tora! Tora! Tora! is its decidedly unpatriotic viewpoint. It's already a miracle that such a sensitive historic issue could be made as an American/Japanese co-production, but that it would cast an almost mercilessly critical eye on the events amazes most of all.
The key to this lies perhaps in the period when it was made. In the late 60s and early 70s, with the Vietnam conflict spiraling increasingly out of control and the summer of love still clearly in the mind, the disapproval of (or perhaps disgust with) American militarism was stronger than ever. In Japan too this was a time of change; of student protest and the rise of left-wing political organisations. As a result, this film probably could not have been made at a different time, prior or later.
Anonymous direction and wooden acting (especially on the American side) may fail to lift it into the big league, but Tora! Tora! Tora! is certainly of interest as an historical document. Both on the time it portrays and on the period when it was made.