Emperor Movie Review
An attempt to spice up a true story with fictional characters and events leaves this film feeling artificial. And it doesn't help that the two likeable lead actors never quite crack the surface. But this is still a fascinating moment in history, and the film captures a strong sense of the setting as well as the importance of this urgent meeting of two cultures.
It takes place in August 1945, just after Japan surrenders to the Americans. General MacArthur (Jones) is now charged with determining whether Emperor Hirohito (Kataoka) should be tried for war crimes. So he assigns General Fellers (Fox) to define Hirohito's role. Fellers has experience with Japanese culture: he lived there before the war and fell in love with university student Aya (Hatsune). But he never knew what happened to her, so in addition to working with his translator Takahashi (Haneda) to meet with various wartime officials, he also looks for news about Aya.
There's something fishy about this whole Aya business right from the start, as we doubt that such a high-ranking military officer, charged with such a vitally important task, would spend so much time on his own personal search. We also never really care about Fellers' feelings for Aya, so nothing about this plot-thread and its gauzy flashbacks feels realistic. And sure enough, a bit of research reveals that it's complete fiction. The far more interesting relationship here is between Fellers and Takahashi, which is played with intriguing texture by Fox and especially Haneda but is never properly explored on-screen.
And then there's Jones, who swaggers through his scenes playing the same grizzly southern gent he always plays. At least he livens things up considerably, and puts his comical timing to good use. Both Jones and Fox have enough gravitas to bring out nuances in the political situation. While filmmaker Webber gives the movie a gorgeous visual look, with detailed sets and a telling look at Japan's first steps to recover after a devastating war. And most resonant of all is the way the film explores America's moral authority as victors in this situation after they have almost bombed the nation back to the stone age.
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