In August of 1945 the United States dropped two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Shortly after the War, the U.S. conducted an investigation of the Emperor of Japan to determine his role in the war as well as the bombing of Pearl Harbor. With only 10 days to work with, General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) must report his findings to General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) and give his recommendation of either innocence or guilt.
Emperor is based on a true story that takes place immediately following the aftermath of World War II. Japan is in restoration phase and even the slightest misguided decision, such as the arrest and conviction of Emperor Hirohito for war crimes, could send the situation into a downward spiral. Complicating things further is Fellers’ past in which he spent a considerable amount of time in Japan and fell in love with a local general’s daughter. Tensions are high, and his decision on the matter has the potential to send the U.S. and Japan into another war.
There’s a distinct influence of two distinct and polar opposite cultures in Emperor. Tommy Lee Jones represents the quintessential American with General MacArthur. He’s boisterous and doesn’t care so much about the process of the investigation so much as the result. On the other side of it all you have the strict, formal nature of the Japanese culture. It’s clear the Emperor of Japan is a person regarded with the upmost praise by all of Japan. Fellers is stuck somewhere in the middle, having previously spent time in Japan and learned its customs.
A lot of history is packed into the film’s 98 minute running time, and as a result, it can be cumbersome. This is especially true during the first half hour or so when everything is being explained. As the film progresses, it becomes clearer and more interesting as a result.
Even with the destruction and sadness shown in the aftermath of the bombings, there’s a certain splendor to Emperor. Amid the rubble and chaos there is still beauty. There have been plenty of World War II movies and while Emperor might not be the best, it sheds light on an overlooked aspect of the war many might not know about.