All the Emperor's Men: Kurosawa's Pearl Harbor , by Hiroshi Tasogawa
When 20th Century Fox planned its blockbuster
portrayal of Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor, it looked to Akira Kurosawa
– a man whose mastery of the cinema led to his nickname “the Emperor” –
to direct the Japanese sequences. Yet a matter of three weeks after he
began shooting the film in December 1968, Kurosawa was summarily
dismissed and expelled from the studio. The tabloids trumpeted scandal:
Kurosawa had himself gone mad; his associates had betrayed him;
Hollywood was engaged in a conspiracy.
Now, for the first time, the truth behind the downfall and humiliation of one of cinema's greatest perfectionists is revealed in All the Emperor's Men. Journalist Hiroshi Tasogawa probes the most sensitive questions about Kurosawa's thwarted ambition and the demons that drove him. His is a tale of a great clash of personalities, of differences in the ways of making movies, and ultimately of a clash between Japanese and American cultures.
Inventory #HL 00314945
Tora! Tora! Tora! was one of a wave of big-budget World War II combat movies produced in the 1960s and ‘70s that emphasized the re-creation of historical battles—films like The Longest Day (1962), Battle of the Bulge (1965), the great In Harm’s Way (1965), and Midway (1976). These pictures combine narrative and docudrama storytelling to varying degrees, but all are primarily concerned with feeling “realistic.” Darryl F. Zanuck had resuscitated his career by producing The Longest Day, an account of D-Day told from multiple perspectives and by multiple directors, and a film whose success allowed Zanuck to regain control of the Twentieth Century-Fox studio. Five years later Zanuck decided he wanted to produce a Pacific version of The Longest Day, focusing on the events leading up to the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor.
With his son Richard Zanuck (head of production for Fox) and producer Elmo Williams, Zanuck set about putting together the massive production. The idea was for the two perspectives on Pearl Harbor to be written separately in Japan and Hollywood, then combined into one massive screenplay. The title, “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” was the Japanese code to signal their surprise attack had been achieved. ("Tora" means “tiger.") Richard Fleischer would direct the American side of the story, while Akira Kurosawa would write and direct the Japanese side. Elmo Williams in particular figured that an artist of Kurosawa’s prominence would lend the picture instant stature and importance.
The problems started right away, however. Fox wanted a film of riveting movement and spectacle, and a factual account of what led to Dec. 7 told from both sides; Kurosawa saw a chance to tell an epic tragedy primarily of one man, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who engineered the Pearl Harbor attack. He wanted to explore “the tale of one human being who, in his brief moment in the spotlight of history, acted contrary to his own aspirations and ideals brought about a fatal collision between two countries, one that brought his own country to the brink of ruin and resulted in his own death.” This was not the movie that Elmo Williams and Fox were trying to make.
Kurosawa also wanted to write the entire film, and his first draft ran to 1000 handwritten Japanese pages (400 typed English pages). Williams found the draft bloated and at times incoherent, though it had its moments of Kurosawa magic—such as a scene of a fisherman on the Japanese coast seeing a massive battleship silently gliding through the dark, misty, predawn sea: like a monster in a nightmare.
It’s descriptions like that which allow one to understand why Fox stuck with Kurosawa as long as they did, for despite all the erratic behavior that was to follow, the man was undeniably a cinematic genius whose vision for this film, if somehow allowed to be realized, might have resulted in a masterpiece. But the reality of the situation meant this was an impossibility. This was Fox’s film, and Fox’s vision, and there was never any thought to Kurosawa creating the entire movie. The studio simply decided to try and compromise enough with him to keep everyone happy.