Directed by Peter Webber
Starring: Matthew Fox, Tommy Lee Jones, Eriko Hatsunem
Peter Webber’s Emperor tells the tale the of how the United States, led by General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones), comes into Japan and tries to help rebuild the country. Juxtaposed with that is the love story of Matthew Fox’s General Bonner Fellars and Aya (Eriko Hatsunem) which sees the trials of an American and a Japanese woman falling in love in a time when it was considered taboo. It’s a huge undertaking, considering most of the history books tend to leave this section out of their teachings.
For the most part, Webber succeeds. His biggest asset is Tommy Lee Jones’ MacArthur, who outright robs every scene he gets. Certainly, he plays MacArthur very gung-ho, pro American, and it generates laughter of glee. I’m not sure if I was laughing because Jones was so hammy, or if it was because he slipped in the role of MacArthur so perfectly. He might be too good at the part, as one can’t help but feel there should have been much more of him in the film.
That’s not to say Matthew Fox or Eriko Hatsunem are awful in their parts, nor is their story uninteresting. It just feels a little out of place for the story the film wants to tell. Yes, it’s relevant to show how the Japanese and Americans were treated in their respective countries at the time, and true, adding a love story here helps put faces on the forms of bigotry that engulfed both cultures at the time. Unfortunately, these flashbacks slow the movie down to a halt.
Emporer fires on all cylinders when we’re delving into Emperor Hirohito’s involvement in the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and everything that happened thereafter. Webber is just fine sticking to movie clichés, working mostly in his favor. He knows he’s giving enough of a history lesson to educate the masses, doing a general swipe of the of the brush than giving the piece finer details. It gets the job done just fine, and creates a thrilling lesson, but one helped but be spoiled after Zero Dark Thirty perfectly nailed down how to do these kinds of films.
It makes it all the more tragic Emperor couldn’t be more of these scenes. If it weren’t so bogged down by Fox and Hatsunem’s love story, Webber might have a great war picture on his hands, and certainly one wouldn’t necessarily be pro-U.S. boo bad guys. That said, what’s there isn’t awful, and the two stories on their own would be fine standalone films. Mixed together does neither tale any favors, and while there’s a lot to like about Emperor, it’s a shame knowing it could have been so much more.