Director: Peter Webber
Starring: Matthew Fox, Tommy Lee Jones, Eriko Hatsune, Toshiyuki Nishida, Masayoshi Haneda
Written by: Vera Blasi, David Klass and (based on the book by) Shiro Okamoto
Running Time: 105 mins
Release date: 4th October 2013
When dealing with history, the events after World War II seem less important than what happened during the war itself. we all know about the Nuremberg trails but what happened to the war criminals from Japan? Emperor is a film that brings that story to the attention of the world and while this is a very worthy film full of interest and intrigue, it also manages to shoot itself in the foot with a love story that seems like it has strayed into the wrong picture.
The war is over and US General McArthur wants to bring the men involved in the initial attack on Pearl Harbour to trial, hoping that this will boost his chances of becoming President of the United States. He enlists General Bonner Fellers to help track down the politicians and military leaders responsible but mainly to find out if Emperor Hirohito passed the command for the attack to happen. While Fellers desperately tries to find out the truth, finding himself facing many closed doors and obstacles, he also is keen to find the Japanese women he fell in love with before the war.
Director Peter Webber, whose credits include the beautiful looking The Girl With The Pearl Earring, has done an amazing job here on the whole look of the film, capturing the devastation of a country in ruins after the Atomic bomb. With dazzling cinematography from Stuart Dryburgh, it is certainly a lovely film to look at and the attention to detail is impressive. It’s just a shame that the film as a whole isn’t as impressive.
The central story of the General’s hunt for the men behind Pearl Harbour is both fascinating and draws to in. I didn’t have any idea that this happened and so I didn’t know the outcome. Yet the pacing and tone is constantly interrupted by the love story that, mostly shown in flashback, slows the whole process down. I can understand that Fellers, in real life, had a secret Japanese love and his knowledge of Japan made him the ideal candidate for the job, yet this could have been dealt with in the first few minutes and so left the rest of the film to be about the truth behind Emperor Hirohito.
It also didn’t help that, in the film, Fellers made a translator and his only ally, try to track her down, only for Fellers to decide to visit her father in the house he visited when he came to the country with the girl. It immediately made me think, why didn’t he do that in the first place, would have saved so much time?
It also doesn’t help when the lead doesn’t have too much charisma. Matthew Fox is a fine actor and looks like the rugged, square-jawed soldiers of yester-year. His only downside is that he has difficulty carrying the film. He doesn’t have that screen presence that is needed for such a responsibility. It becomes ever more evident whenever Tommy Lee Jones appears. Jones, playing General McArthur and seeming to have the time of his life doing so, has to just sneeze on screen and he could be nominated for an Oscar. His appearance lifts the film into a different realm and unlike Fox, you become almost hypnotised by him.
This isn’t a terrible film and the historical detailing is the sole purpose for going, especially if you are interested in this part of history and didn’t know too much about it. I just think that Webber and his screenwriting team should have had more confidence in the initial material to have concentrated solely on that, instead of throwing in a love story that comes to no point in the end anyway. It ruined an otherwise fascinating story.