Star-Bulletin Features

Monday, May 28, 2001

A propaganda film depicting Japanese sailors planning
the Pearl Harbor attack, with toy ships as stand-ins for
battleships, has been mistaken for documentary
over the years.

Scene faked to
add realism to ‘Pearl’

One of the goofiest scenes in the new movie "Pearl Harbor" shows Imperial Navy planners scheming to attack the American naval base, and in the midst of what appears to be a Bertholt Brecht stage production, we see some Japanese guys in diapers pushing toy boats around in what Jed Clampett might have called a "cee-ment pond."

OK, they're not diapers; they're fundoshi. And OK, they're not toy boats; they're fine-scale models. Even so, try not to giggle. The scene was in the original script, and the filmmakers loved it.

The reason is that they're "re-creating history." Look at this photo showing real Japanese sailors pushing around real toy ships in this elaborately flooded large-scale model of Pearl Harbor. This well-known picture is often used to "prove" the Imperial Navy went to extreme measures to plan the attack, even in history books and in a Honolulu newspaper (not ours!). The filmmakers just reproduced this scene.

Now turn on your logic machine. How would the Japanese know in advance the exact berthing positions of the American ships on Dec. 7? The United States didn't know where the ships would be until the day before.

The picture actually was taken in mid-1942 and shows a movie set for the propaganda film "Hawaii Sakusen." So what we've got here is a fake scene mistaken for real, which was faked once more to impart realism to something fake.

Got that?

--Burl Burlingame

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