The movie is titled “Emperor”” and Tommy Lee Jones is featured front and center in all the marketing. But “Emperor” is not your standard issue World War II movie.
“Emperor” is set in the immediate aftermath of the war. The embers are still burning through much of Japan, and the country is on its knees, as General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) takes control.
Meanwhile, the defeated Emperor Hirohito stays behind closed palace doors while MacArthur and his team debate his fate. Matthew Fox plays Brigadier General Bonner Fellers, the man ordered by Gen. MacArthur to investigate the Emperor’s role in the war.
The film occasionally flashes back to a star-crossed romance about an American college student turned soldier (Matthew Fox) and the Japanese woman (Eriko Hatsune) he continues to love even after their countries are at war.
Unlike other war movie romances (See “Pearl Harbor”) this romance does not distract, or interrupt the flow of the movie. The romance still has its fair share of tearjerking and profound moments, but for the most part they’re authentic. The cliches in “Emperor” were few, and both plots have the right tone throughout the film.
As I mentioned, Tommy Lee Jones appears in all the marketing, but make no mistake about it: This is Matthew Fox;s movie. Although he looks a bit young to be a general, he nonetheless gives a solid performance as Gen. Bonner Fellers. He’s believable as a soldier and as a man searching for his lost love. Without a doubt, one of his better performances.
The highlight of the movie is Tommy Lee Jones as General MacArthur. Jones adds welcome spark, and some clever one-liners. He played MacArthur as a strong leader, but also a compassionate one. All the major decisions are his to make, but he never makes them without first listening to his advisors.
Throughout the film, we’re constantly reminded of the vast differences between the American and Japanese cultures. As a viewer I learned quite a bit about both sides. We see the differences when Fellers is interviewing various Japanese officials, and while reflecting on his romance with Eriko Hatsune. The sets are simple, yet beautiful. And the music score is touching, and moving.
I saw the trailer for “Emperor” two years ago, and then forgot about it because it never played around my neck of the woods. As luck would have it, it’s now streaming on Amazon and I was finally able to see it.
“Emperor” is a drama, not a war movie, and that’s the key. This is a very good movie, and sadly one that most people probably haven’t heard of, and it’s absolutely worth a look.