By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Three Beers) –
The war with Japan has just ended, and the occupation has begun. General Bonner Fellers (Matther Fox) is assigned to accompany General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) to organize the reconstruction of the island nation. Fellers is given the task of investigating top Japanese political and military officials for war crimes, in particular Emperor Hirohito, and former Prime Minister Tojo. While Fellers performs the investigation, he is haunted by memories of a Japanese girlfriend he had before the war.
This film’s greatest strength is in its performances. Matthew Fox brings uncharacteristic subtlety and depth to his character, displaying just the right level of sensitivity and moral resolve his character needs. It is an interesting decision which helps to distinguish his performance from other similarly themed period dramas. Tommy Lee Jones brings his trademark gruffness to the role as General MacArthur.
Life imitates the internet.
While he bears little resemblance to the historical figure, he is an actor whose capabilities at “selling the role” are simply transcendant. Actress Eriko Hatsune (as Feller’s girlfriend Aya) delivers a solid performance, and brings convincing chemistry to the relationship between the two characters.
Director Peter Webber manages to keep the romantic subplot just that. The main focus of the story stays on the history, as Fellers works to determine the truth behind the Emperor’s involvement (or lack of involvement) in the decision making processes which lead to Japanese warcrimes. Too often period dramas seem to want to use its historical background as a jumping off point for a love story. It is refreshing to instead see the romance used as a foil for the main story. School teachers and historians will appreciate the way the film takes time to explore the contradictions of WWII era Japanese society, where modernism collided with the militarist worship of authority.
While there are occasional artistic flourishes (the wide shots of the smoking ruins of Tokyo for instance) the film rarely feels truly cinematic. The basic camera setups feel more like a made-for-TV movie, and the leisurely editing style gives the film a feel which is strictly measured. The pacing and direction is never less than competent, but clinically so.
These doctors seem legit…
Had this same film been placed in the hands of a director more adept at handling subtle drama (Clint Eastwood comes to mind), it might have been a minor masterpiece. Unfortunately, there simply is no edge to this movie, and as a result, try as they might, even the universally solid performances cannot save Emperor from its lack of emotional impact. This is the sort of entertainment which is tailor-made to be shown in middle-school history class, because it tells its story as inoffensively as possible.
Permission slip optional, Nodoze required
A solidly acted (if unessential) period drama.
Take a Drink: whenever MacArthur has his picture taken
Take a Drink: any time the word “Emperor” is used
Take a Shot: when any character drinks on screen