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INTERVIEW
Bombs away

l to r: Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, Director Michael Bay and Ben Affleck
Photo by Chris Betros

On the eve of Pearl Harbor's attack on Japan the star and filmmakers are on their best behavior during their mission here. Chris Betros reports.

Sixty years after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, historians are still arguing over the so-called "date that will live in infamy." Not so the makers of the film Pearl Harbor. Their biggest argument will be how to divide up the money their film is raking in all over the world. And they were taking no chances of offending anyone in Japan during their recent visit here.

Director Michael Bay (Armageddon), producer Jerry Bruckheimer and star Ben Affleck were at their diplomatic best, deflecting any controversy about the 183-minute film. There was plenty of praise for the dignity and courage of Japanese soldiers during World War II, a comment on how Franklin Roosevelt practically forced Japan to go to war with his oil embargo, gushing remarks about how magnificently the relationship between the two countries has evolved in the last 60 years, and a reminder that the film was not a history lesson.

Pearl Harbor comes with a lot of expectations, which is a bit unrealistic, said a dreamy-looking Affleck, 28, who plays a gung-ho pilot caught up in a love triangle on the eve of the Japanese attack. "You put the title 'Pearl Harbor' on a film and you immediately have a lot of baggage to carry," he said. "People expect you to tell the whole story of the war. Well, no movie can do that. The war was fought on six continents and 55 million people died. We couldn't even give the complete picture of the attack, the lead-up, the failed negotiations and all that."

Affleck didn't have to go far to do research for his character. Both his grandfathers fought in the Pacific during World War II. "I spoke to them and lots of other veterans about their experiences," he said. "They still found it very difficult to talk about the war because it was so traumatizing. They tried to convince me what the film tries to show young audiences so viscerally, that war is terrible no matter who you fight for or what your cause is and that hopefully we'll never have to fight again."

In many ways, Affleck is similar to the character he plays in Pearl Harbor. "I started my career like him, youthful, naive and idealistic with a simple view of the future," he said. "Of course, I haven't had to go through the terrors of war and learn the personal cost of blindly following my ambition."

For Bay, the challenge was to frame a love story around the attack and to make an entertaining film without losing sight of the solemnity of the subject matter. In one well-publicized incident, he scolded an extra who was laughing on the set while an attack scene was being filmed in Hawaii. "I never lost sight of where we were and what had happened," he said. "I wanted to give audiences a feeling of what it must have been like to be at Pearl Harbor that Sunday morning."



Bay said people in the West tend to overlook the Japanese side of the story. "We tried to show how the Japanese felt they had no choice but to go to war," he explained. "They were courageous as they set off on their mission."

To apparently hammer home the point that the Japanese weren't all bad guys, he included a scene that audiences will either find ridiculous or touching. As the low-flying Zeroes approach the harbor, the pilot of one plane waves to some kids playing baseball below to take cover.

Unfortunately, the Japanese don't get too much screen time, and when they do, they aren't really Japan-based actors. Mako, a Japanese actor who has lived in the US for 35 years, plays Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander of the forces that attacked Pearl Harbor. He had to come to Japan to redub his dialogue in Japanese for the benefit of audiences here because his Japanese is too Americanized.

Although there has been some quibbling over the accuracy of the film, Bruckheimer and Bay both emphasized the movie is not a history lesson. "For most older Americans, Pearl Harbor has dual connotations of romance and wartime history," said Bruckheimer. "However, many young Americans don't know much about the attack. To them, it is just one of the most beautiful places in the world."

Japanese kids know even less about that pivotal event in the war. While the movie may alter their perceptions a little, it is being marketed in Japan as a JY20 billion love story in the tradition of "Titanic." It is a tactic that worked well with Bay-Bruckheimer-Affleck's other blockbuster, Armageddon. That film was marketed worldwide as science fiction, except in Japan where it was seen as a tearjerker.

Pearl Harbor has also been altered a little for its Japan release but producer Bruckheimer played down the significance of this. "I don't think I've ever made a movie where something wasn't changed for certain markets. We made some minor dialogue changes," he said.

A British newspaper reported that a line by a nurse, played by Kate Beckinsale, in which she says how the Americans bounced back from the cowardly Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor to win the war, was cut from the film. Bruckheimer and the film's Japanese distributor said this line never existed in the film.

In overseas versions, Beckinsale says: "Before the Doolittle raid, America knew nothing but defeat. After it, nothing but victory." The Japan version says: "Before the Doolittle raid, America knew nothing but defeat. After it, there was hope of victory."

In the American version, she further says: "It was a war that changed America." In Japan, she will say: "It was a war that changed America and the world."

It has also changed Affleck's bank account, the star admitted. "The film's done very well and I have already received a nice check, thank you," he said sheepishly. "How much more I get is up to you folks."


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406: The art of elegance
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404: Don't judge an ogre by its cover
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401: Life's a party

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400: In the Nic of time

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399:Memories

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398:Positivity

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396: Rock Warrior

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395: 2001's absurd odyssey

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393: Keeping up with the Jones
392: Ratner a man in a rush
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388: Reaching for the universe
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387: Speak softly and carry a big kick
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386: Paper boy
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385: A sight for saur eyes
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384: The planet that went ape
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382: Mission possible
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381: Bombs away
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380: Not so close encounter
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379: Sexy poets
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378: Hogan's hero
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377: Sumo do
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376: Mummy dearest
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374: Brief encounters
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358: A heartbreak hotel
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357: Billy Elliot
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354: In a tranquil mood
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351: Bah Humbug
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ISSUES 349-
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