Monthly Archive for: ‘April, 2013’

Emperor — Film Review


Directed by Peter Webber

This is two films in one.  The main story is a narrative about the aftermath of the Japanese surrender to the Americans at the end of World War II and General Douglas MacArthur’s deliberations over what to do with Japanese Emperor Hirohito.  The issue was whether he should he be tried and executed as one of the architects of the war, or allowed to continue as titular ruler of Japan?  The film is misnamed.  It is not about the Emperor.  The Emperor is only a minor figure in the film.  It is about General Bonner Fellers on MacArthur’s staff, who is charged by MacArthur with investigating Hirohito’s guilt in war crimes.  His report will provide a justification for a decision that MacArthur had already made to allow Hirohito to continue on as Emperor of Japan.  The secondary story is a love story between Fellers and a Japanese woman Fellers met in the United States, who is related to a senior officer in the Japanese military.  The love story is much more interesting and better presented than the political narrative.  The girl is gorgeous (Eriko Hatsune) and she plays the role perfectly.  I think if this film had been recast to present the love story as the center weight of the film with the political drama as a backdrop, it might have worked better.

I am not steeped in the history of this period or in the biographies of any of the individuals portrayed.  So I am taking the film at face value.  I won’t make any judgment about whether the portrayals and the facts and the interpretations are historically accurate.  I will say that I did not find the performance of Tommy Lee Jones as Douglas MacArthur convincing at all.  In general, none of the portrayals of the American military officers came across as genuine.  On the other hand, the Japanese actors who played the roles of the Japanese officials were very effective.

The film attempts to teach some lessons on the nature of Japanese culture or the essence of the Japanese soul.  These discussions between Japanese and American officials take place mostly in the context of the military investigation into the role of Hirohito during the war.  This also has a superficial quality about it that I found myself resisting.  What actually taught more about the Japanese mentality and the culture was the romance.  It did it through the action and characterizations rather than through analytical discussion.

The film also tries to raise the issue of responsibility for the war and the nature of war crimes by comparing the war time behavior of the Japanese military and the American.  Again, this is a lightweight treatment that is completely unimpressive.  The romance (and Eriko Hatsune) is the best part of this film.

The film is engaging and tells an interesting story — actually two interesting stories that are intertwined.  The things it tries hardest to do probably don’t succeed all that well.  The subplot that simply told itself and didn’t think too much worked a lot better.

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