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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Review: Emperor

Matthew Fox and Tommy Lee Jones Navigate a World After War

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: March 8, 2013 – U.S.
Rating: PG-13
Genre: Drama, History
Running Time: 105 minutes
Director: Peter Webber
Writers: Vera Blasi and David Klass (screenplay), 
Shiro Okamoto (book)
Cast:  Matthew Fox, Tommy Lee Jones, 
Eriko Hatsune, Masayoshi Haneda, 
Colin Moy, Takatar├┤ Kataoka

"Emperor" tells two different types of stories – it's an investigative procedural and a romance – but they're both about love.

U.S. General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox, "Lost") understands Japan in a way that most Americans cannot. When he was a student, he met and fell for a Japanese girl, Aya (Eriko Hatsune), who travelled to America all alone to attend college; and through their relationship, he comes to deeply admire her culture and country.

But eventually, inevitably, they're separated by war. 

General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) recognizes Fellers' knowledge of Japan and assigns him to investigate whether Japanese Emperor Hirohito (Takatar├┤ Kataoka) was responsible for ordering the attack on Pearl Harbor. To do that, Fellers will first have to locate and interrogate Hirohito's closest associates.

It's 1945 and World War II is over, but peace may be compromised if Hirohito is convicted and tried for war crimes because the Emperor is considered God by his people. However, the politicians in Washington – and their voters – are thirsty for justice. Parallels can, of course, be drawn to more recent conflicts – but the movie never makes any heavy-handed comparisons.

Another general, Richter (Colin Moy), was passed over for the assignment. Are his strong opinions about Fellers and MacArthur colored by sour grapes or genuine patriotic concern?

Is MacArthur pushing Fellers front and center into the investigation for the right reasons or simply because he needs a fall guy if the outcome backfires? After all, MacArthur has his own ambitions – such as a future bid for the Presidency.

Is General Fellers just a blind "Jap lover," as he's been accused? While investigating Hirohito, Fellers asks an assistant, Takahashi (Masayoshi Haneda), to focus solely on a more private matter: Aya's whereabouts. Fellers loves her, and yes, he loves her country too. He has fond memories of what Japan was like before it was devastated by war.

The film can be dry and slow at times, but Matthew Fox channels the same conviction and intensity he displayed as Jack on "Lost," and Tommy Lee Jones clearly has fun playing the old, bombastic MacArthur.

"Emperor" is unique because it shows the effects of World War II from Japan's perspective. Millions of Japanese lives, Fellers points out in a running narration, were "incinerated" in an instant by the Atomic Bomb. The backdrops – which range from lush bamboo trees and ornate Japanese homes to seedy bars and bombed wreckage – paint a picture of a country that's one step away from either collapse or recovery. 

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