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In his rule over Japan as Supreme Commander of the occupying forces after World War II, General Douglas MacArthur was probably as benign a dictator as history has recorded. His enlightened policies led to a Japanese post war economic recovery from wartime devastation, and to post-war harmony between Japan and the West that replaced virulent wartime hatred. Emperor deals with his first days in Japan after the Japanese surrender, and in particular, with his momentous decision not to include the Emperor Hirohito among the Japanese war criminals, a judgement made despite political and popular clamor. Allied war propaganda had demonized the Japanese people and Hirohito in particular, and Japanese propaganda had done much the same with the other side. MacArthur's decision became the lynch-pin of his policy there: to respect the cultural differences instead of seeking to override them, and to try to bring together the best that both Japan and the western powers had to offer.
The movie deliberately avoids clarifying which emperor the title refers to. On the surface it may seem to denote Hirohito, but as supreme commander MacArthur had near imperial power, and did not hesitate to use it. The film concentrates on one of his protégés and close advisors, General Bonner Fellers, a Japanese expert on whose opinion MacArthur chooses to rely. Fellers was close to MacArthur, having served with him even before the war. Fellers loved Japan and had visited it, and had produced for the American military a crucial assessment of the Japanese military mind. He had additionally predicted war with Japan well in advance of Pearl Harbour. In real life, Fellers had some connections to Japan, even to the Imperial Household, and he had a close friendship with a former female Japanese exchange student whom he knew from Earlham College in Indiana. He rejoined MacArthur in 1943 and accompanied him during the Supreme Commander's momentous first days in Japan. The film strongly hints that MacArthur had already made up his mind about the treatment of Hirohito, which he almost certainly had, but wanted Fellers to supply the rationale for his decision.
The film has three threads that run throughout: MacArthur's occupation of Japan; Fellers' investigations leading to his written opinion; Fellers' search for his Japanese friend amidst the post-war chaos. It is one thread too many, since while the film juxtaposes these, it does not successfully weave them together. The one exception may be Fellers interview with the Japanese general, supposedly his friend's uncle, since it does much to explain the country's traditions and military attitudes. Director Peter Webber has said quite rightly that MacArthur has not been particularly successfully treated on the screen. In fact, epics like MacArthur (1977) and Inchon (1981) proved to be major disappointments. It seems a shame here that the director and writers Vera Blasi and David Klass did not keep MacArthur as the film's central figure, but instead chose to focus on his subordinate, Fellers.
As MacArthur, Tommy Lee Jones gives an outstanding performance, and the film is worth seeing for that alone. Looking nothing like MacArthur (he didn't try), Jones captures ever bit of "El Supremo's" command and self-confidence, and when he is present on screen, like the General himself, he dominates it. It is just a shame that he doesn't get more screen time. MacArthur is, historically, the man who made the real decisions, and, especially as played by Jones, a figure far more fascinating than Fellers.
By contrast, the part of Fellers (Matthew Fox of "Lost") seems dull, unfocused, and even clumsy, particularly considering the crucial days in which it is set. That is probably not Fox's fault, but a weakness of the screenplay. While the fact that Fellers knew Japan well and was especially friendly with a Japanese girl he had met in college are factors that deserve to enter into the picture, as presented they often tend to be a distraction from its central theme. This is all the more the case since the story of "Aya" appears to contain considerable fiction. Feller's real-life friend from Earlham, Yuri Wantanabe, survived the war, and his connections to Japanese officialdom were probably better than her own. There is the additional fiction that all this is compressed into a ten-day window, when the actual investigations took place over five months.
Still, in playing Aya, Eriko Hatsune renders her subtly, displaying a delicate balance between propriety and concern. Some of the other Japanese actors are equally notable. Especially fine, and especially central to the story, is the portrayal by Masatô Ibu of the Lord Privy Seal, Marquis Koichi Kibo, the highest figure in the Imperial Household and a friend to Hirohito. Ibu is persuasive in presenting a man who attempts to preserve the Emperor's honour and his privacy even in the face of the possibility that the Emperor might hang. Masayoshi Haneda also gives a fine performance as Fellers' interpreter and de facto aide. And Takatarô Kataoka is realistic as Emperor Hirohito himself.
The wanderings of the plot are offset in part by the great production values (Grant Major)and fine cinematography (by Stuart Dryburgh). The contrast between the real beauty of Japan and the wartime devastation is particularly effective.
This movie has many good things going for it, particularly Tommy Lee Jones (and MacArthur himself). It's just a pity it didn't capitalize on them more.
Emperor premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on September 14, 2012. It has been acquired for distribution by Lionsgate & Roadside Attractions, but no date for general distribution has yet been announced.
Just saw Emperor at TIFF tonight. It was an enjoyable, well made,
historical film, but a tad dry. Starring Tommy Lee Jones as General
Douglas MacArthur and Matthew Fox as MacArthur's subordinate officer
General Fellers, it is set against the backdrop of the early occupation
of Japan by U.S. forces after World War 2. MacArthur is faced with a
dilemma: he has to prosecute thirty Japanese war criminals - the
masterminds of the war - but a question of what to do with Emperor
Hirohito looms over him. To leave him alone would invite displeasure
from American public and politicians, to arrest and try him for war
crimes would endanger the occupation and break the tenuous peace.
Jones' MacArthur assigns the task to Matthew Fox's character as he is
an expert on Japan - now Fox's character has only 10 days to
investigate the Emperor's involvement and come to a decision. In the
meantime, the viewers also see flashbacks from Fellers' past, and there
is a subplot involving Feller looking for his lost lover.
Tommy Lee Jones is plainly having lots of fun as the blustering larger- than-life Douglas MacArthur, and Matthew Fox delivers a good performance with moments of extreme intensity. Masayoshi Haneda plays a translator and aide and manages to pull off a role that has dignity despite the harrowed and dishevelled appearance of the character. Eriko Hatsune - the love interest of the film - has a fragile beauty but is too reserved throughout the movie to deliver much of an emotional impact. The film was shot in New Zealand and Japan (in fact it's the first movie to film inside the Japanese Imperial Palace) and it's gorgeous - the ruins of bombed out Tokyo are especially impressive, and of course the Imperial Palace as a backdrop is fascinating.
The quibble I had with the movie is that it tries to create a sense of urgency and suspense, but since it's based on historical events it largely fails. Anyone who has taken history in high school should know how it turned out. With the exception of a couple of scenes, there also isn't much of an emotionally charged drama going on either. Although I enjoyed it, I cannot deny that it moved at a more sedate pace and lacked great urgency and suspense.
I recently saw Emperor at a preview ahead of the upcoming March 8 opening. I found it well paced, carefully constructed, and beautifully shot. The interwoven sequences work tightly together. The protagonist's personal past and present personify the larger struggle over how to treat a brutal enemy that's been justifiably vanquished at horrific cost to both sides. Tommy Lee Jones and Matthew Fox deliver emotional performances as military leaders pivoting from years of war to peace. It's an absorbing story that puts you in their characters' shoes, and is compelling and thought provoking even though you know the historical outcome.
This movie provides a very good depiction of a historically significant
event that is all but ignored in movies and text. Seamless transitions
between history and entertainment, the cast of this movie (especially
the Japanese ones) expertly capture the complexity of what is the
Japanese culture and psyche during post WWII reconstruction. Tommy Lee
Jones also does an amazing portrayal of MacArthur in copying his
mannerisms and affect.
This is a movie for people who appreciate historical context, attention to detail, and subtle references packaged with solid, proportioned acting.
I thought I might be the only one who found this film interesting since
I spent 7 years in Japan and happened to be there when Emperor Hirohito
died. At that time, there was a renewed discussion of how much he was
responsible for beginning World War II. In the end, it seemed he was
more or less strong-armed into the war by right wing politicians. True,
he could be blamed for being weak-willed, but he did not have the
mental constitution to be an emperor in the first place. If he could
have chosen, he would have been a marine biologist, as marine biology
was his hobby and passion. There was no more confusing and cathartic
time in Japanese history than when MacArthur and the American military
came in to occupy Japan. The entire society had to re-evaluate itself
on all levels. How could they, the greatest people in the world, be
conquered by such an uncultured civilization? This question persists
until the present day.
It was not clear at the beginning of this film whether it was a true story or a story based around true events. If the fact that it was a true story had been made clearer, it would have been more compelling. Nonetheless, it did capture most of the turbulent elements of that time. The love affair, that parallels this story is a good one and one that exposes the prejudice that existed against any Japanese woman who dared marry outside her culture. Eriko Hatsune was perfect in the role of an intelligent woman caught between tradition and emotion. Unfortunately, Matthew Foxx (General Bonner Fellers) acted as if he had been hit by a tranquilizer dart. Tommy Lee Jones overacted the role of MacArthur and was equally unconvincing.
Be warned. This is not an action movie,though a few action scenes exist. This is mainly a movie based on philosophic discussions, psychology, and cultural misunderstandings. Still, it offers a good view of an important time in world history.
This nice movie tells a fictionalized account based on the actual life
story of US Army Brigadier General Bonner Frank Fellers who served
under General Douglas MacArthur . On the staff of General Douglas
MacArthur (Tommy lee Jones), the de facto ruler of Japan as Supreme
Commander of the occupying forces, a leading Japanese expert, General
Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) is charged with reaching a decision of
historical importance: should Emperor Hirohito be tried and hanged as a
war criminal? Interwoven is the story of Fellers' love affair with Aya
(Eriko Hatsune), a Japanese exchange student he had met years
previously in the U.S. Memories of Aya and his quest to find her in the
ravaged post-war landscape help Fellers to discover both his wisdom and
his humanity and enable him to come to the momentous decision that
changed the course of history and the future of two nations.
This is a good drama war with emotion , suspense , thrills , culture clashes , and historical events . The picture contains a marvelous story of love and understanding set amidst the tensions and uncertainties of the days immediately following the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II. Excellent cast gives good acting as Fox who plays Bonner Fellers, a general who's sent to Japan to decide if Emperor Hirohito will be hanged for war crimes ; starring alongside him is Eriko Hatsune as Aya Shimada, a woman Fellers romanced years earlier, and Tommy Lee Jones as legendary Us military figure General Douglas MacArthur. The movie displays a colorful as well as adequate photography by Stuart Dryburgh . Emotive and evocative musical score by Alex Heffes . The flick was professionally directed by Peter Webber (Hannibal , The girl with a pearl earring). This true life story was one worthy of big-screen treatment .
The picture is well based on true events , these are the followings : After the war, Fellers played a major role in the occupation of Japan. Among his duties was liaison between HQ and the Imperial Household. Soon after occupation began, General Fellers wrote several influential memoranda concerning why it would be advantageous for the occupation, reconstruction of Japan, and U.S. long range interests to keep the Emperor in place if he was not clearly responsible for war crimes. He met with the major defendants of the Tokyo tribunal. In their research and analysis of events and considerable controversy about the time period, according to historians Herbert Bix and John W. Dower, Fellersunder an assignment by the code name "Operation Blacklist"allowed them to coordinate their stories to exonerate Emperor Hirohito and all members of his family. This was at the direction of MacArthur, now head of SCAP, who had decided that there was to be no criminal prosecution of the Emperor and his family. He will question the accused Class -A War Criminals such as Wartime Prime Minister Hideki Tojo, Former Prime Minister Konoe, and Koichi Kido while confronting prejudice from a resentful populace and other American soldiers. General Fellers, who came from a Religious Society of Friends family (commonly known as Quakers) and attended the Quaker-affiliated Earlham College, was instrumental in the selection of Elizabeth Vining, an American Quaker educator, as tutor to the Emperor's children. Ms. Vining was followed after 4 years by another Quaker educator, Esther Rhoads.In 1971, Emperor Hirohito conferred on Fellers the Second Order of the Sacred Treasure "in recognition of your long-standing contribution to promoting friendship between Japan and the United States."
"This country is starving and teetering on the edge of total collapse. It wouldn't take much for the resentment to ignite into revolt and the fate of the emperor could be just the spark." After the Japanese surrender ends WWII the US Government wants to know who was behind the bombing of Pearl Harbor. General Douglas MacArthur (Jones) charges General Bonner Fellers (Fox) with an important mission. Fellers is to decide if Emperor Hirohito should be charged as a war criminal and hung. To make matters even harder Fellers is also searching for his lost love in the midst of the war ravaged country. Being a history buff I was really looking forward to seeing this movie. This movie really shows the tense decision Fellers was charged with, his conclusion really will decide the fate of an entire country as well as relations between the US and Japan. The movie shows the lengths people will go to protect someone they revere as a God and how close the country came to a completely different future. I really enjoyed this being a history buff but I do have to say for people that aren't as interested in this stuff you may find it a little slow. Overall, a very tense look at one of the most important days of post war Japan. I give it a B+.
Shiro Okamoto's book 'His Majesty's Salvation' has been adapted for the
screen by Vera Blasi and David Klass and renamed EMPEROR. Director
Peter Webber (Hannibal Rising, Girl with a Pearl Earring) keeps what
might have been a patchwork quilt story tightly woven and if the movie
delivers nothing else, it gives insight into the relationship between
Japan and the US after the devastation of the atomic bomb and the
resultant surrender of Japan. For that alone the film is well worth
The setting of the film is 1945 when General MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) steps onto the shores of Japan as the Supreme Commander of the occupying forces. Assigned to rebuild Japan after the war MacArthur selects General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox), a man with a history with Japan before the war, including a love affair with a Japanese student Aya Shimada (Eriko Hatsune) in America before the war: Aya returned to Japan when relations with between Japan and the US began to dissolve and Fellers followed her for a futile attempt to overcome differences between cultures and impending historic changes, to investigate whether Emperor Hirohito (Takatarô Kataoka) should be tried and hanged as a war criminal. Memories of Aya and his quest to find her in the ravaged post-war landscape help Fellers to discover both his wisdom and his humanity and enable him to come to the momentous decision that changed the course of history and the future of two nations. He meets with the advisors to the Emperor, is rebuked by the Japanese citizenry, and is frustrated with the information he is basically unable to gather until he finally arranges through the aid of his translator chauffeur a meeting between the Emperor and MacArthur in which the Emperor's perception of human dignity is presented and MacArthur has found his answer Feller's sought.
Throughout the film we are reminded about the basic cultural differences between not only East and West, but particularly the culture of Japan - a culture deeply dependent on devotion to Emperor and country. It is an enlightening journey for us as audience, one of understanding and respect, and one that should be more widely shared. Matthew Fox does well with his bifurcated role and he is strongly supported by a very fine cast of Japanese actors. This is a film from which we all can learn important issues while being entertained with a fine period piece.
I have to admit I liked this movie a lot. The plot is straightforward: General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) is hired by General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) to investigate the role of Emperor Hirohito (Takataro Kataoka) during World War II, to investigate whether the Emperor should be tried as a war criminal. However the film is about a lot more than just conduct during war; it is a story of cultural adaptation, as Fellers comes to know something about Japanese attitudes towards the conflict, and how they differ significantly from those embraced by the Americans. Eventually the two sides come to an understanding - so much so that Hirohito actually deigns to have a meeting with MacArthur, something hitherto considered unthinkable in Japanese aristocratic culture. Jones' MacArthur is just wonderful - although physically very different from the actual person, the actor captures the mannerisms, the aggressiveness, and the softness lurking beneath an apparently gruff personality.
In the fine biographical movie MacArthur which starred Gregory Peck as
the controversial general only a small part was devoted to the years as
Supreme Commander Allied Powers in charge of the occupation of Japan.
Even liberal historians give Douglas MacArthur credit for the vast and
peaceful societal change that our occupation of Japan post World War II
wrought. We haven't been that successful since. And only a part of that
part of the movie concerned the decision about the Emperor's fate.
Emperor concerns those fateful first days of the occupation when MacArthur made the decision not to try the Emperor or members of the royal family as war criminals. Doing the investigation on MacArthur's behalf was General Bonner Fellers who was an army intelligence officer with a background in Japanese language and culture. Matthew Fox is General Fellers and he's got another mission for himself, to find an exchange student from Japan from his youth and whom he knew up to the declaration of war between the USA and Japan.
Tommy Lee Jones plays MacArthur and while he doesn't have that majestic cultured voice that MacArthur had, he still creates a good impression of the imperious general who had a dislike of civil authority. In fact traces of the behavior that got him sacked by Harry Truman during the Korean War are shown. In this case though MacArthur with help of Fellers and his own knowledge of the Asian scene had the right instincts.
The Emperor of Japan centuries ago was a true ruler and over the centuries evolved into a constitutional monarch. But not the same as that Windsor family that reigns in the United Kingdom. The Japanese Shinto religion conferred divine status, the original emperor one Jimmu Tenno is supposed to be descended from the sun god. Japan's wars and foreign policy were done in his name, still are to some extent. A greater decision from Hirohito's part came when he said that he and his family were not divine.
Not covered in this film was the fact that Hirohito had some brothers, at least one of them would have been a more than willing tool of the army and navy chiefs who conducted Japan's war. He faced until the surrender the distinct possibility of being overthrown himself by one of his siblings.
Matthew Fox and Tommy Lee Jones and the Japanese cast are perfectly cast in their roles and I recommend this film as good entertainment and for those with an interest in the Far East.
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