3 (out of five stars)Director: Peter WebberCast: Tommy Lee Jones, Matthew Fox, Eriko HatsuneRated: PG-13 for violent content, brief strong language and smoking (historical)Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Hirohito sat on the Chrysanthemum Throne through the Japanese invasion of China, Pearl Harbor and World War II. But at war’s end, two emperors were in Tokyo.
Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander of the Allied powers in the Pacific, ruled Japan as a potentate, overseeing reforms that turned the country away from militarism and feudalism and set the stage for its ascent as an economic superpower.
“Emperor” is about both men, about Mac-Arthur deciding whether to prosecute Hirohito as a warmonger and war criminal. Was the “God Emperor” a passive observer to his country’s crimes against humanity? Or did he encourage it?
Tommy Lee Jones gives us a saltier version of the image-obsessed MacArthur, a guarded and cunning man who wanted to cover himself if he decided to absolve the emperor of blame, but brave enough to know that “a show of absolute fearlessness” is what will impress the armed millions of Japanese most.
With a tiny contingent of troops, he struts into Japan and watches lines of soldiers turn their backs on him.
“They avert their gaze from the emperor, too,” his aide (Matthew Fox) explains.
That aide, Gen. Bonner Fellers, does the heavy lifting in the story and film. He has days to investigate and decide Hirohito’s fate. As portrayed, Fellers has a secret conflict of interest. The love of his life was Japanese. Fellers puts his translator on the task of finding Aya (Eriko Hatsune) amid the ruins.
The script plays up the cul-ture clash, bitter feelings of the ex-combatants and uncertain times. But the film soft-peddles the real Fellers’ politics to make way for a love story that may be fiction.
Jones is game as MacArthur, but Fox comes up short as a lovelorn romantic lead.
Director Peter Webber’s team’s depictions of the place/time are spot-on. But the love story turns it all into melodrama.
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