However turgid the storytelling, “Emperor” makes its historic points about a widely unknown 1945 wartime episode that played out in U.S occupied Japan after its surrender. General Douglas McArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) must decide the fate of Japan’s well-loved Emperor Hirohito. Supreme Commander McArthur is shown to be exceptionally sensitive to the enormous implications of his crucial decision whether to bring war crime charges against the Emperor or provide him with a graceful exit. The history seems to be correct on the surface, even if its dramatized delivery is anything but exceptional.
U.S. General Bonner Fellers (respectably played by Matthew Fox in a thankless role) carries on a voice-over narration that keeps the movie tethered too close to shore. The airy noir tone is all wrong for a movie that isn’t, can’t, and shouldn’t try to be “Casablanca.” General Fellers is assigned to conduct an investigation into Emperor Hirohito’s culpability to war crimes. Fellers’s report will inform General McArthur’s pressing decision.
Fellers also has some personal business to take care of relating to his former girlfriend Aya (Eriko Hatsune), a Japanese exchange student Fellers met when the two were in college together in the States. Concerned for her safety, the General searches for Aya who may or may not have been killed during the U.S. attacks on Japan.
The film wisely pins its delayed climax on the meeting between General Douglas McArthur and Emperor Hirohito (believably played by Takataro Kataoka). Although the closing sequence of events doesn’t make up for the film’s clunky descent into over-pronounced melodrama, it does express the theme of cultural respect that the screenwriters intended.
Rated PG-13. 98 mins. (C+) (Two Stars - out of five/no halves)