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The film opens with a change-of-command ceremony aboard the Japanese battleship Nagato, flagship for the newly appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto; he takes command from Osami Nagano. The two discuss America's embargo against Japan and its starving them of raw materials needed to fight the war. Both agree that a war with the United States would be a complete disaster for Japan, but army hotheads and politicians push through the alliance with Germany and start long term planning, believing the U.S. is pre-occupied with the war in Europe. The U.S. has also moved their Pacific fleet to Pearl Harbor, which Japanese officials regard as a "knife to the throat of Japan". Soon Yamamoto orders the planning of a pre-emptive strike on American forces in order to give the Japanese Navy a chance of defeating a more powerful enemy. Yamamoto believes Japan's only hope is to annihilate the American Pacific fleet. Pearl Harbor commanders debate their exposure to a torpedo attack but realize that torpedoes dropped from a plane will fall at least 75 feet below the surface. Since Pearl Harbor is only 40 feet deep, they feel they have a natural defense to torpedoes. But the Japanese have a plan to overcome this obstacle. In a major intelligence victory, American intelligence in Washington manages to break the Japanese Purple Code allowing the United States to intercept radio transmissions the Japanese think are secret. American intelligence in Washington is seen collecting increasingly threatening radio intercepts and conveying their concern to a White House staff that seems strangely unresponsive. The American response to high-quality intelligence in general appears lax although Pearl Harbor does increase air patrols and goes on full alert well before the raid.

Japanese commanders call on the famous Air Staff Officer Minoru Genda to mastermind the attack. As the Japanese prepare for the attack, Admiral Kimmel and General Short, although hampered by a critical intelligence report about the attack fleet being too slow coming to them, do their best to enhance defenses. General Short calls for aircraft to be concentrated in the middle of their airfields to protect them against sabotage. A few are moved to outlying airfields, including two young Army lieutenants (Ken Taylor and George Welch) who are sent to Haleiwa, a subsidiary airfield. A more prudent move by Short is his placement of new radar stations including overcoming bureaucratic obstacles to their locations. Yamamoto is portrayed pressing Japanese authorities to try to avoid war and blaming the Japanese Army command for pressing too hard for war when peace is still an option. Yamamoto stresses that the United States is a mighty foe who would be extremely dangerous to provoke. In order to defeat the United States, Japan will have to invade the mainland and dictate terms of U.S. surrender on the White House steps, an eventuality Yamomoto clearly sees as impossible to achieve. In a fortunate defensive move, the U.S. sent two aircraft carriers, the USS Enterprise (CV-6) and Lexington (CV-2) to sea to probe for the Japanese fleet although this did reduce the number of fighter aircraft available to protect the remainder of the fleet which remained at Pearl Harbor. If Japan had been able to destroy these aircraft carriers at Pearl Harbor, it would have been much more catastrophic for the Americans. Japanese commanders should have considered aborting the mission. Their intelligence revealed the carriers had left Pearl Harbor. But they had made a political decision to go to war that facts could not disrupt.

On the morning of December 7, decision makers in Washington and Hawaii are seen enjoying a leisurely routine while American intelligence works feverishly to interpret the coded transmissions and learns the final message will be received precisely at 1:00pm Washington time. American intelligence notes that the final message instructs the Japanese Ambassador to destroy their code machines after they de-code the last of the 14 messages, an ominous point. Attempts to convey this message to American commanders fail because they are enjoying a Sunday of playing golf and horseback riding. Finally, Admiral Stark is informed of the increased threat, but decides not to inform Hawaii until after calling the President, although it is not clear if he takes any action at all. Finally at 11:30am Washington time, Col. Bratton convinces army Chief of Staff Marshall that a greater threat exists and Marshall orders that Pearl Harbor be notified of a suspected impending attack. An American destroyer also notes a Japanese submarine trying to slip through the defensive net and enter Pearl Harbor, sinks it, and notifies Pearl Harbor. The Captain at Pearl Harbor dismisses the report thinking the new commander of the destroyer must have been over-excited. Just after 7am the two airmen posted at the remote radar unit spot the incoming Japanese aircraft and inform the Pearl Harbor Information Center, but the Lieutenant in charge dismisses the report, thinking it is a group of American B-17 planes coming from the mainland and frankly too tired to care (he simply said in a tired voice, "Don't worry about it, then hangs up the phone.) The Japanese intend for their declaration of war to be issued at 1pm Washington time, 30 minutes before the attack. However, the typist for the Japanese ambassador is slow, and cannot de-code the 14th part fast enough. A final attempt to warn Pearl Harbor is stymied by poor atmospherics and bungling when the telegram is not marked urgent; it will be received by Pearl Harbor after the attack. The incoming Japanese fighter pilots are pleasantly surprised when there isn't even any anti-aircraft fire as they approach the base. As a result, the squadron leader radios in the code phrase marking that complete surprise for the attack has been achieved, "Tora, Tora, Tora."

Once the attack is launched, America's response is desperate and only partially effective. Upon seeing the Japanese low-level bombers, an American officer instructs his colleague to get the tail numbers so the pilot can be reported for safety violations; he thinks they are American planes. The sight of the offending plane then deliberately dropping a bomb on the base dispels that misapprehension. The scene switches to a band playing the National Anthem aboard the USS Nevada as Old Glory is raised. Noticing the large amount of Japanese planes, the band hastily finishes the song before manning their battlestations, finishing just as a bomb lands close to the ship. Anti-aircraft weapons are engaged, which includes seaman Doris Miller using an unattended gun, but with limited success. The actual B-17 pilots coming in from the mainland, un-armed and out of gas, are a bit surprised to fly into a war, but are able to land safely despite friendly fire from American anti-aircraft guns. The aircraft security precautions prove a disastrous mistake that allows the Japanese aerial forces to destroy the US P-40 Warhawk fighters on the ground with ease, thereby crippling an effective aerial counter-attack; All the planes on the runways at the major airfields were destroyed either as they took off or while they were still parked. Two American fighter pilots (portrayals of second lieutenants Ken Taylor and George Welch) race to Haleiwa and manage to take off, as the Japanese have not hit the smaller airfields. The catastrophic damage to the base is well detailed, with sailors fighting as long as they can and then abandoning sinking ships and jumping into the water with burning oil on the surface.

At the end, with the U.S. base in flames, its frustrated commanders finally get the telegram warning them of the danger. In Washington, the distraught Japanese ambassador, helpless to explain the late ultimatum and the unprovoked sneak attack, is bluntly rebuffed by the Secretary Of State. Finally, Admiral Yamamoto is seen lamenting the fact that the Americans did not receive the declaration of war until 55 minutes after the attack started and noting that nothing would infuriate the Americans more. He is quoted as saying "I fear that all we have done is awakened a sleeping giant, and filled him with a terrible resolve." While this indeed reflects what Yamamoto felt, the quote is now believed to be a fabrication.

Starring ... Martin Balsam, Joseph Cotten, E.G. Marshall, Tatsuya Mihashi, James Whitmore, So Yamamura, Jason Robards, Eijiro Tono, Takahiro Tamura

Richard Fleischer, Kinji Fukasaku, Toshio Masuda

Elmo Williams, Darryl F. Zanuck, Keinosuke Kubo,
Otto Lang, Masayuki Takagi

Year Released - Sept. 1970

Length - 144 minutes

Music Composer: Jerry Goldsmith

Movie Distributed by 20th Century Fox

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