Tora! Tora! Tora!
Last night I was flipping channels and I caught the excellent war movie “Tora! Tora! Tora!” which was the code sent to Japanese fighters that their mission to bomb Pearl Harbor was to proceed as planned. This is a fantastic movie, which tells the story well from both sides. The Japanese soldiers and the American soldiers are portrayed with equal measures of humanity, in their respective languages. There is even a sense of humor, when one famous Japanese pilot responds to a subordinate that of course the new Zero is even better than the Messerschmitt – he has personally seen the latter in combat over London!
Most of the movie is the grueling preparations leading up to the attack – intercepted Japanese communications, confusion in the American chain of command, ambivalence about how the Japanese should handle America and Japanese commanders voicing their opinions on the wisdom of engaging the sleeping giant. There’s one guy the Japanese nick-named Gandhi as he meditated long and hard in seclusion upon the perfection of the planning for Pearl Harbor.
My favorite scene was just before the attack itself, where the Japanese pilots were heartened by the beautiful image of the morning sun exploding in to light rays from behind a cloud – like the flag of their empire – certainly a good sign! I’ve long been fond of sun rays poking out from clouds, but I’ve never thought to connect them with the Japanese Imperial Flag.
As they make Oahu the first plane they encounter is an older bi-plane, with a woman who is training a kid to fly in the cold morning conditions. They suddenly see squadrons of war planes rushing past them, look around in excitement, and realize that they are surrounded by a foreign armada. “Oh shit,” I could hear the woman thinking, as I wondered if the Japanese would take her down as their first, easiest kill.
In this first, infamous sneak-attack on American territory, the warriors charge proudly past the civilians, their bullets and bombs reserved for the bodies of soldiers and warships. All the same, the woman wasn’t taking any chances, she barrel-rolled away from the Zeros in to the empty air over her home town. This brought me a weird moment of vertigo, as civilian airplanes in the space over our cities were precisely the target of that second, infamous sneak-attack on American territory.
Two years and two weeks ago.