Ranking: #51/111

Director: Richard Fleischer (USA)

Genre: War Drama

As a historical war epic, Tora! Tora! Tora! has depth, breadth and vision. It is a masterful war picture with stunning aerial battle scenes and photography. In fact, all the battle scenes are visual spectacles.

This is a long, but perfectly paced, movie of sustained excellence by one of America’s most proficient ever directors.

Beginning with one of the best contextualising opening sequences in cinema, with its wonderful synergy of sound and imagery, Fleischer has produced a marvellous recreation of the attack on Pearl Harbor, which began hostilities between Japan and the US in World War 2. This film sets the benchmark on how a movie should contextualise its narrative.

I love how Fleischer provides both the US and Japanese perspectives on the conflict, as he gives us a fair, respectful, balanced, more nuanced viewpoint on war. It’s almost as if he has interwoven two separate productions, one American and one Japanese, into a unique seamless narrative.  The director wanted to create a documentary look and feel to the movie and he does succeed in making this contentious period of history come alive with an admirable dose of objectivity.

Throughout, Fleischer makes a highly disciplined use of his cinematic resources. At the same time, he strives for artistic beauty, making vivid use of colour and creating very realistic and dramatic zones of combat at sea and in air.

Based on 667 pages of script, and using famed Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa, to direct part of the sequences showing the action from the Japanese perspective, it was a minor miracle of directing and editing to blend all of this into a coherent, powerful unity. Speaking of editing, the film makes fine use of montage and powerful juxtaposition of images, showing the contrasting viewpoints of both parties to the conflict, as well as differences between generals at the scene of battle and their ministries of defence safely back at HQ.

In creating one of the greatest war movies of all time, Fleischer was helped, of course, by a superb cast of actors and a gritty script (“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”)

Due to his artistic integrity and humanity, he transcended the twin temptations of propaganda and jingoism, giving to the world a monumental war drama.