I knew almost nothing about the fate of Japan after World War II until I saw this film, and the movie is almost like taking a history lesson. Since the Americans had recently won the war, it was up to us to decide what would befall the Emperor of Japan, and if he committed “war crimes” or not. Those that had committed war crimes were either put in jail for life or sentenced to death. This job fell to General McArthur, who trusted a few of his men to give him honest recommendations; this is where Emperor starts its story.
General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) is in charge of investigating whether or not the Emperor committed war crimes – and ordered the bombing on Pearl Harbor – during World War II. General McArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) has assigned him the task of figuring out who was responsible for Pearl Harbor, and thus starting the war; but what McArthur doesn’t know is that Fellers had a Japanese girlfriend, Aya (Eriko Hatsune), while he was in college, who later returned back to Japan. Aya had been in the U.S. to study abroad, but when her father became ill, she returned back to her home country. Since Fellers is now back in Japan, he assigns his valet the task of looking for Aya, and is optimistic that she is still alive; however, there have been many bombings, including using the atom bomb over Hiroshima, and she may or may not have survived the attacks.
This movie reminded me a lot of 1999’s Snow Falling on Cedars, even though that took place in the U.S. In that film, Ethan Hawke’s character had been involved with a Japanese girl whose husband was currently on trial, and Hawke was a courtroom reporter who had to grapple with how much he had loved her. In Emperor, General Fellers (Fox) has to deal with doing what’s best for America, while at the same time still pining for Aya and hoping against hope that he will find her alive. The main difference between these two movies is the content matter, of course (a war vs. a trial), but also that Fellers’ and Aya’s relationship is shown in flashbacks only.
Yes, see this movie, but be aware that its pace is languidly slow. I found the content matter in it to be very interesting, since I’m a history buff and didn’t know much about that time period, but I almost nodded off a few times throughout it; it seems much longer than its 98-minute runtime. Matthew Fox and Tommy Lee Jones are very good in their roles, and the movie is based upon the book His Emperor’s Salvation, by Shiro Okamoto, although I’m not sure if the love-story angle is real or not.
Emperor is rated PG-13 with a runtime of 98 minutes.
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.