I hate to admit it, but I actually enjoyed this movie immensely. It could be that I’m a fan of US history or that I thought Fox did such a great job playing Gen. Fellers that I overlooked any deficiencies in the film.
“Emperor” deals with a crucial chapter in postwar history, in which the future direction of Japan was being decided by MacArthur and a handful of advisers. The general appoints the brigadier, Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox, of “Lost”) to investigate Emperor Hirohito for war crimes. The American public is clamoring for the emperor’s head, but executing him could set back the occupation and open the door to the Soviets.
Fox, who’s the real star of the movie, plays Fellers as the sweetest, gentlest guy in the world in his private life. But in his professional life, he has the officer thing down: He’s abrupt, forceful and unyielding, as if unwilling himself to show even a hint of softness or doubt. It’s a smart, thought-through performance.
Fellers and his staff begin to compile a list of people who were with Emperor Hirohito when the war started. Because none of the Japanese who are friendly to the Americans are among them, they resort to asking Tojo by enticing him to give them information in order to save the Emperor. Fellers travels to Sugano Prison and demands that Tojo gives him three names. He, instead, gives one: Fumimaro Konoe, the former prime minister. Fellers decides to visit General Kajima. He explains to Kajima that the Japanese people are selfless and capable of great sacrifice as well as unspeakable crimes because of their devotion to a set of values. Kajima does not know whether or not the Emperor is guilty in starting the war but notes his role in ending the war. He gives Fellers a box of folded letters written by Aya (the Japanese woman Fellers had fallen in love with prior to the war) to Fellers and Fellers learns that Aya had died in one of the Allied bombing raids.
MacArthur orders Fellers to arrange a meeting between him and the Emperor himself. Before the Emperor arrives, Fellers informs MacArthur of his role in diverting Allied bombers away from Shizuoka (he had hoped to save Aya). MacArthur replies that because no American lives were lost because of it, he will turn a blind eye. When Emperor Hirohito arrives, he offers himself to be punished rather than Japan. MacArthur states that he has no intention of punishing Japan or Hirohito and rather wishes to discuss the reconstruction of Japan.
The film proves to be extremely interesting thanks to the fact it turns both America and Japan into villains from the get go making them both culpable for the atrocities they have committed. By setting the film in war torn Japan, the film shows how much Japan is suffering because of the war, and the state of a once prosperous happy country that is one execution away from total collapse.
Perhaps my penchant for Asian films tilted me in the direction of liking this movie, but it at least provided some insight into what kind of monumental task the Allies were taking on in rebuilding Japan which you can see at the beginning of the film is nothing more than rubble. Maybe I enjoyed it because the film is a story not just about the past but about the future as it shows two countries in flux, Japan awaiting news of their fate and America trying to justify their actions having just committed one of the worst war crimes in history. Trying to find some kind of redemption even though they have made an indelible mark on a country it had already ravaged.
JPFmovies advice: watch it.