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Emperor (7/10)

by Tony Medley

Runtime 106 minutes.

OK for children.

There have been many films about the Allied reconstruction of West Germany after World War II. There have been none about the American reconstruction of Japan after the Japanese surrender in 1945.

This film shows the amazing destruction of Tokyo as a result of American bombing in 1945. Into that distruction comes Gen. Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) and his staff, including Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox), a Brigadier General.

MacArthur had a difficult decision to make about what to do with Emperor Hirohito, who is viewed as a god by most Japanese. If they executed him it would alienate the Japanese and make rapprochement much more difficult. If they spared him it would alienate hawks in the American hierarchy. MacArthur gave Fellers the job of investigating Hirohito's involvement in, and responsibility for, Japan's wartime actions, like the attack on Pearl Harbor

While Jones gives a good performance as MacArthur, he doesn't appear on screen that much. The film is really about Fellers and how he followed MacArthur's orders, difficult though they were, given the political machinations at play.

The story behind the making of the movie is almost as interesting as the movie itself. Producer Yoko Narahashi grew up listening to stories from her grandfather, Teizaburo Sekiya (Isao Natsuyagi) who was a high-ranking official as a member of Emperor Hirohito's Ministry of the Interior.

In Narahashi's research into Fellers she found that he sometimes wrote during the war about visiting an unnamed "friend" in Japan. The idea of adding a love story to the movie occurred to her, but she had no proof. Even so, she added the fictional character Aya (Eriko Hatsune) for Feller's Japanese love interest. Her instincts were affirmed when, after telling her 101-year-old uncle, Sekiya, about the movie, he said, "Make it a burning love story."

Director Peter Webber has done a fine job in making this into a believable telling of a previously little-known, but important, part of history. The movie is extremely well done, except for one incident in which Fellers gets into a fight in a bar, which seemed a little unrealistic and over-the-top, and certainly unnecessary. Although Webber had to fictionalize the story to make it into a movie, his attention to detail in re-creating Tokyo circa 1945 has resulted in an exceptional feeling of the ambience of time and place. Unlike other recent films claiming an historical basis, apart from the fight in the bar there is nothing in the film that keeps one from believing that this is the way it happened.