John Hanlon Reviews

Film Reviews

Emperor Poster


Genre: Drama

Director: Peter Webber

Cast: Matthew Fox, Tommy Lee Jones, Eriko Hatsune

MPAA-Rating: PG-13

Release Date: March 8th 2013

There have been many films made about World War II and some of the actions that preceded it. Few have been made about the aftermath of the war and how the Allied forces worked to rebuild a land decimated by bombs and destruction. Emperor is one of those films. It seeks to showcase how maintaining peace can be difficult in the shadow of painful warfare.

Based on a true story, health Emperor focuses on the decisions made in regards to the emperor of Japan shortly after the end of the war. At the time, two atomic bombs had been dropped on the Japanese mainland and the country has finally surrendered. The time to build peace has arrived.

Tommy Lee Jones stars as General Douglas MacArthur, a man who has been sent to build that peace. Before he can though, he must decide who should be prosecuted for the conduct in the war. He orders the loyal General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) to investigate the emperor’s role in the attack on Pearl Harbor. Fellers, a man who has long personal ties to Japan and especially a woman on the island, must interview and determine the fate of a leader that many in Japan view as a living god.

Like Hyde Park on Hudson, Emperor succeeds partly because it sees its role in the grand scheme of a larger story. In lieu of trying to capture a broad story, this drama focuses on a period of a few days when major decisions were made in terms of the rebuilding of Japan.

The story is smart enough to both realize the importance of cultural values in Fellers’ decision and appreciate the anger rising up from many Americans who wanted revenge for the Pearl Harbor attacks. The verdict is never simple and it’s never treated as such.

Fellers, who previously lived in Japan, knows that the fragile peace in Japan will be at risk if the emperor is prosecuted or killed for his role in the war. He has seen many of the other leaders of Japan commit suicide rather than face trial. Fellers also knows that the American people—and many of the soldiers who have seen their friends and neighbors killed in battle— want to see justice done.

But as many characters note, the emperor’s role in the attack isn’t as simple as some make it seem. And evidence must be found before he is prosecuted for a decision that he may or may not have supported or agreed with.

The story succeeds in telling a little-known story to great effect. Director Peter Webber (Girl with a Peal Earring) knows how to create drama and does so by putting the viewers in Fellers’ shoes, knowing that his decision is more difficult than many believe it is. The plot sinks, however, when the story too often flashes back to a romantic subplot concerning Fellers and a Japanese woman he had a long-term relationship with before the war started. Such flashbacks hold the story back and prevent it from reaching the dramatic heights of other investigative historical movies like last year’s Zero Dark Thirty.

That being said, Emperor is still a solid drama featuring an intriguing but little-known story. The script may have some flaws but the drama is real and quite captivating. Tommy Lee Jones seems to be playing his similar grumpy older man role again but that seems to work here as he falls into the background and lets the captivating story speak for itself.


Review by: John Hanlon