Film Review: Emperor


War drama Emperor lifts the veil on a little elucidated aspect of World War II and its aftermath. Peter Webber’s film is most absorbing when it focuses on the political aspects of the plot.

After the Japanese have surrendered at the end of World War II, General Douglas MacArthur tasks Japan expert General Bonner Fellers with a critical mission. Fellers must investigate the culpability of Emperor Hirohito, and whether he should be hanged as a war criminal…

Emperor combines a historical drama with a detective story. This approach to real incidents in history is an interesting one. The investigation aspect keeps viewers engaged with the plot. The film works better for those who are unclear about the outcome, as this adds a sense  of mystery to proceedings.

The audience is asked to side with protagonist Fellers in Emperor. The use of narration works to put viewers in his shoes. Coupled with the personal story, the film is as much about Fellers as it is about his examination of whether Hirohito should be charged.

Where Webber’s film stumbles is in its insistence of including a love story. Although this may provide Fellers with some depth, it ultimately detracts from the more interesting central narrative. The flashback sequences and concentration upon Fellers relationship with Aya feel almost shoehorned to fulfil an unnecessary need for a romantic element.

Emperor really focuses on Japanese culpability rather than American accountability. The theme of Japanese remorse runs throughout the film. The only sense of US regret is channelled through Fellers, and even then this is linked to his personal connection.

The film’s production design is excellent. There is a sense of destruction in Tokyo which is illustrated with a layer of authenticity. There is a good sense of setting and period, with memorable touches such as the glistening skin of Matthew Fox’s Fellers. Performances are decent all round; it is as if the role of General MacArthur was made for Tommy Lee Jones.

Emperor is a competent drama, although it is marred by deviating away from the central strand.