Emperor specifically, what to do with Japan?
World War II has come to a close, and U.S. forces are occupying Japan, plans going forward to help rebuild the country but also to search and investigate war crimes committed during the war. General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) has been named Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers and has been tasked with deciding where American forces and Japan go from here. One of his biggest decisions is coupled with the war criminals. First, they must be found and second, they must face trial for their crimes. More than that though, he must decide what to do with Hirohito, the Japanese emperor. How much involvement did the Emperor have in getting Japan into the war? How much was he responsible? Did he order the attack on Pearl Harbor? MacArthur passes the investigating mission to an officer on his staff, General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox), to find out how the Hirohito issue should be resolved, but there won't be easy answers.
I was encouraged when I found this movie at IMDB and then Netflix. A post-World War II about the U.S. occupation of Japan -- just months after the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima -- sounded like a great jumping off point. It's a touchy, messy and uncomfortable topic in history that hasn't been dealt with much in terms of film. That's when the movie is at its best, seeing the Japanese cities in ruin, the channels the American military must still go through following the war with the Japanese power structure, the differences in culture between America and Japan and plenty of other things. It's a war movie but not quite. It's a drama about the military and based on a true story at that. Read more about Bonner Fellers HERE.
So that's all and good, right? You would think so. The movie unfortunately only partially focuses on that part of the story. Director Peter Webber works off a script from Vera Blasi and David Klass decides to go down a different route. Instead of focusing solely on the investigation into Emperor Hirohito, 'Emperor' follows Fox's General Fellers and his own personal investigation into finding a past love, Aya (Eriko Hatsune), an exchange student he met in America but visited in Japan prior to the start of the war. We get one mindless, lyrical flashback after another showing their past, slowing down an already slow-moving story to a standstill. We're talking about a huge moment in international history, and it is minimized to a love story that cannot be. Gag me. The best thing to come from it is some more exploration of the Japanese culture -- what makes the Japanese people who they are -- but that doesn't make the majority of it interesting.
The casting in general is just okay. Fox is acceptable as General Bonner Fellers, but his entire part is hamstrung by the long lost love script. Tommy Lee Jones is an interesting choice to play MacArthur, one of the most iconic generals in American military history. Physically, nothing was done to make him resemble the famous general, but he gives it the old college try in terms of speech patterns and physical mannerisms. It's a good part, not a great one, but his character is basically an extended cameo. It's a part that keeps him in the background far too much in general. As for the rest of the cast, not too much else to recommend. The other American officers at HQ are basically faceless, and the Japanese officers and government officials don't make much of an impression.
There are some moments late that are worth mentioning. Fox's Fellers has an emotional scene late with his Japanese translator, Takahashi (Masayoshi Haneda), a man dealing with his own grief but trying to move on as best he can. A Japanese official (Masato Ibu) talks to Fellers about the day Japan surrendered and what led to it, a part of history I wasn't aware of that you can read about HERE. As well, the scene late where MacArthur actually gets to meet with Hirohito (Takataro Kataoka), an odd meeting in terms of cultural differences as two men feel each other out. Unfortunately, these are just individual scenes that get lost in a movie that wastes a chance to be pretty decent considering the subject matter. Too bad because I wanted to like this one.
Emperor (2012): **/****