If there are any gaps in your knowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor, prepare to have them plugged. This three CD release takes you through the preparation, the attack, and the retaliation, as well as putting President Roosevelt under the spotlight and studying the attack from a more Japanese perspective. This is an all-encompassing, in-depth series that details every aspect of the events surrounding the Japanese aerial offensive.
The series is split into three parts, ‘The Pacific: lost evidence’, ‘Pearl Harbor: Tora Tora Tora’, and ‘Pearl Harbor: 24 hours after’. Each section differs slightly in style, and although there are some instances of repeated material, the sections tie together well and offer fresh information each time. There is no guide as to which part to watch first, but I would recommend starting with ‘Lost evidence’, and choosing either of the others to follow up. ‘Lost evidence’ is a comprehensive description of the 1941 attack which draws on aerial reconnaissance photographs, veteran interviews, and clever reconstruction.
The documentary’s forte is its ability to build suspense. At first, we are shown young US marines and sailors blissfully unaware of the impending assault, playing catch on a beach paradise while hula girls sway in the background. As messages are intercepted from Tokyo mentioning the imminent attack on an undisclosed target, the suspenseful music swells and veterans of the attack reminisce about the comics they were reading or games they were playing as the Japanese approached.
Master of strategy Isoroku Yamamoto, about whose life we learn more in ‘Tora Tora Tora’, is introduced via one of the documentary’s well-shot re-enactments. His plan to concentrate the destruction on US repair yards, oil dumps, aircraft carriers, and battleships is carefully explained with digitally enhanced recreations of original aerial photos. An expert poker player, Yamamoto is shown holding a royal flush as the final preparations for the attack are being made. On the whole, these acted scenes manage to avoid the Crimewatch cliché of blue lighting and bad music, but the poker hand was a tad forced.
One of the most interesting aspects of the entire series is the interviews. To hear veterans confessing that – for the Americans at the time – the Japanese were still short, four-eyed, non-threatening men who could not shoot straight only adds to the suspense. The audience is being shown examples of complacent American superiority, in the knowledge that they are headed for a fall.
‘How could they attack us?’ one asks, with a healthy sense of irony. ‘They showed up without warning… it was rude!’ exclaims another. In their eyes, the vast US battleships were untouchable, and the idea of any sort of confrontation with Japan, laughable. Juxtaposed with such testimony are rare shots of the Japanese strikeforce assembling and taking off; both impressive in their organisation and chilling in their determination.
The reaction to Pearl Harbor is well documented across all three CDs. From the men who describe it as ‘a sneak attack’ and ‘unsportsmanly’ to clips of Roosevelt’s declaration of war, we are shown a suddenly defiant nation of proud soldiers – culminating in footage of the flag going up at Iwo Jima.
Commiseration turns to retaliation in the other two discs, which focus on Japanese strategy, the major players, and the American public’s reaction to the strike, with particular attention paid to the movements of President Roosevelt.
Anyone wanting to further their knowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor or to see some rare, fascinating footage from the moment of impact and the aftermath should make sure they watch this series.