SUBJECTS — U.S./1941 – 1945; World/Japan & WWII; Seafaring;



AGE: 10+; MPAA Rating — G;

Drama; 1970, 144 minutes; Color. Available from

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TWM offers the following movie worksheets to keep students’ minds on the film and to focus their attention on the lessons to be learned from the movie.

Film Study Worksheet for Social Studies Classes for a Work of Historical Fiction

Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.

Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.


This movie describes the events surrounding the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. The film tells the story from both the Japanese and the American points of view.


Selected Awards:

1970 Academy Awards: Best Visual Effects, 1970 National Board of Review Awards: Ten Best Films of the Year; 1970 Academy Award Nominations: Best Art Direction/Set Decoration, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing.


Featured Actors:

Martin Balsam, Soh Yomamura, Joseph Cotten, E.G. Marshall, Tatsuya Mihashai, Wesley Addy, Jason Robards, James Whitmore, Takahiro Tamura, and Leon Aimes.



Richard Fleischer, Toshio Masuda, Kinji Fukasaku.


“Tora! Tora! Tora!” introduces the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the beginning of WWII in the Pacific.


MINOR. Critics of this film point out that in its efforts to show the Japanese side of the war, the film whitewashes the naked aggression of the Japanese Empire. This can easily be corrected by a few comments from the adult showing the film.


The unprovoked sneak attack on Pearl Harbor is a black mark against the Japanese nation that will endure for many years. Tell this to your child and that one of the lessons that the U.S. took from Pearl Harbor was to avoid sneak attacks. This helped President Kennedy to avoid disaster in the Cuban Missile Crisis. See Learning Guide to “Thirteen Days“. Give your child the warning from the Possible Problems section before you see the movie. After you have seen the film ask and help your child to answer the Quick Discussion Question.


The history of the Western powers in Asia is not a pretty one. Many countries were forced to become colonies of Imperialist powers. Westerners had forced China to grant them trading concessions. England addicted millions of Chinese to opium (a drug which the British controlled) in order to pay for the tea which the British people bought in huge quantities. The United States participated in seeking trading concessions to a small degree and held the Philippines as a colony, having won it from Spain in the Spanish-American war. Japan claimed that its aggression in Asia was for the purpose of kicking out the Western powers. In reality, the Japanese sought to replace the Western powers as an imperialist presence in Asia.

In 1937, after having conquered Manchuria, Japan invaded China. By December 1941, public opinion in the U.S. had turned against Japan because of Japan’s alliance with Germany, the atrocities committed by Japanese troops against Chinese civilians, and the threat posed by Japanese expansionism to U.S. interests. There was, however, no overwhelming desire among the American people to go to war with Japan.

As of December of 1941, the only important step taken by the United States against Japan was the denial of export licenses for oil. However, Japan saw the U.S. as the only obstacle to its plan to dominate Asia. Because the other Western powers were preoccupied with the war in Europe and because President Roosevelt kept the bulk of the U.S. Fleet in the Pacific, Japan saw an opportunity to neutralize the U.S.

The December 7, 1941 surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was a major victory for the Japanese Navy. In less than two hours it destroyed 188 planes, damaged another 159 planes, and sank or seriously damaged 18 warships. The battleships Arizona and Oklahoma were sunk. The California, the West Virginia and the Tennessee (also battleships) were badly damaged and would not rejoin the U.S. Fleet for months. 2,403 American military personnel were killed and 1,178 wounded. The Japanese lost only 29 planes and pilots, five midget submarines, and one large sub.

In the Battle of Midway, just short of six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Navy wreaked its vengeance. U.S. intelligence had broken the code used by the Japanese Imperial Navy. Using information gleaned from intercepted Japanese radio transmissions, the U.S. Navy surprised a major Japanese assault on Midway Island. In the ensuing battle, four Japanese aircraft carriers and a heavy cruiser were sunk, 322 planes were destroyed, and 3,500 Japanese military personnel were killed, including 100 first line pilots. The U.S. Navy lost a carrier, a destroyer, 150 planes, and 307 lives. The Japanese Navy never recovered from this blow. See Learning Guide to “Midway“.

Admiral Yamamoto was killed in April of 1943 when the U.S., using decoded Japanese messages, ambushed his plane over the Solomon Islands.

This movie was a joint U.S./Japanese production released in 1970. It was made in the context of the Cold War in which Japan was one of the United States’ primary allies in the Pacific. The film is focused narrowly on the attack on Pearl Harbor and implicitly recognizes the goals of the Japanese military as being legitimate. But looking at the record of Japanese expansionism and the atrocities of its military, this is absurd. Japan was wrong to invade Manchuria, wrong to invade China, wrong to invade Indochina, and wrong to attack Pearl Harbor. This movie shows how the needs of a particular time can warp the perspective shown in a movie.


1. See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.


2. Do you think that this movie gave a balanced picture of the beginning of World War II? Why?



1. What does the first six months of WWII in the Pacific, from Pearl Harbor to the Battle of Midway, tell us about the fortunes of war?


Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.



(Be honest; Don’t deceive, cheat or steal; Be reliable — do what you say you’ll do; Have the courage to do the right thing; Build a good reputation; Be loyal — stand by your family, friends, and country)


1. Where would the U.S. be today without the courage of the sailors and pilots who fought and risked their lives to beat the Japanese in World War II?



A book recommended for advanced adolescent readers is Allegiance by Wayne L. Green (Concerning the relationship between a captured American soldier and a Japanese military doctor who saves his life. This book has a few objectionable words or sexual remarks, but is entertaining to both girls and boys.)


In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:

  • Past Imperfect, Mark C. Carnes, Ed., Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1995;
  • Guts & Glory: Great American War Movies, Lawrence H. Suid, 1978, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Inc.

This Learning Guide was last updated on December 18, 2009.

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