Movie Review – Emperor (2012)

Director: Peter Webber

Stars: Matthew Fox, Tommy Lee Jones, Eriko Hatsune, Colin Moy, Masayoshi Haneda

In the aftermath of the atomic bombs and the end of World War II, the American government are unsure whether to try Emperor Hirohito for war crimes. General Bonner Fellers (Fox) is given the investigation with a strict deadline, meaning that this historically important decision rests on his shoulders. As he tries to uncover the inner workings of the Japanese hierarchy he reflects on a previous relationship with a Japanese woman and a love that was lost.

There have been a lot of films about WWII but I can’t recall any about this particular moment, so upon reading the premise I was initially intrigued. I felt that the investigation gave the film some tension as the Japanese officials were obviously reluctant to give any assistance to Feller. The deadline he had provided a sense of drama and it was interesting to see how he managed to actually get some information. There was some political commentary about the devastation caused by the atomic bombs, but I found it to be handled well and not heavy-handed. It was just a case of looking past yourself and seeing things from a different point of view, which in my opinion should always be encouraged.

Where the film fails is the romantic subplot. It takes up the majority of the film so where Emperor purports to be about this historically significant moment, that’s more of a backdrop as whenever the film gets interesting it takes a detour into Feller’s past and we have to witness clichéd, dull scenes. Too much of the film’s running time is spent on this romance and I find it difficult to believe that there wasn’t enough material to make a complete story out of the trial of the emperor. Instead, the film is padded and whenever the story switched I kept feeling frustrated.

If you’re going to watch this you need to be aware that this romantic plot takes up most of the film, so if you’re watching it for the plot about the trial of Hirohito then you’ll probably be as disappointed and frustrating while watching it as I was. I also feel that there could have been more done with the scenery and cinematography to show how alien Japan felt for the Americans, and what a contrast there was between the two countries. As it is, I can’t really recommend it. It was okay I suppose, but only because it covers an aspect of the war that hasn’t been explored before.

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