Emperor (2012)

Emperor (2012)
  • Time: 98 min
  • Genre: Drama | History | War
  • Director: Peter Webber
  • Cast: Tommy Lee Jones, Matthew Fox, Eriko Hatsune


A 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. On the staff of General Douglas MacArthur (Jones), the de facto ruler of Japan as Supreme Commander of the occupying forces, a leading Japanese expert, General Bonner Fellers (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, 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.

One comment

  • This film tells a fascinating story in fine style, but it is difficult to see how anyone thought it was big screen material. Its box office takings were predictably low and it was in theatres so briefly that I had to catch it on DVD which was certainly a worthwhile endeavour.

    In 1945, General Douglas MacArthur was made Supreme Commander in American- occupied Japan and one of his first and most momentous decisions was whether or not to execute Emperor Hirohito as a war criminal. For most Americans, there was no debate: Hirohito was the man who endorsed the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor. But, whether or not he backed the war, a case could be made that he was crucially instrumental in bringing about the peace by ordering the Japanese to surrender. Furthermore the hanging of the emperor – still revered by most Japanese as a deity – could well lead to an explosion of violence that would make the occupation by the Americans and the revival of the shattered nation immensely more difficult.

    MacArthur commissioned Brigadier General Bonner Fellers to make a study of the emperor’s complicity and make a recommendation on execution. Fellers was someone who knew the Japanese well and had considerable respect for their ancient culture. Indeed, before the war, he had fallen in love with a Japanese woman studying in the United States and, even after the war, was anxious to see her again.

    This amazing story is told respectfully by British director Peter Webber and writers Brazilian Vera Blasi and American David Klass, drawing on Shiro Okamoto’s book “His Majesty’s Salvation”, in a film that even-handedly represents Japanese perspectives of the time. The acting is first-rate with Matthew Fox (best-known for the TV series “Lost”) giving a sensitive performance as Fellers and Tommy Lee Jones perfectly cast as the swaggering MacArthur. Many excellent Japanese actors contribute, notably the lovely Eriko Hatsune as Fellers’ girlfriend. Shot on locations in both New Zealand and Japan, high production values make this an admirable viewing experience.

    The movie lacks the fast-paced action that many expect from a visit to the cinema and arguably it is overly sympathetic to the Japanese position and somewhat saccharine in its treatment of the romance, but it is a real pleasure to see a work that tells a little- known story of such consequence so well.

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