Monday, March 11, 2013


One thing I didn't particularly worry about when reviewing this movie was accuracy. Part of that is not really having time to dig through a bunch of WWII history for a movie review that I want to get posted while it's still in theaters (and not necessarily being inclined to do so, to be honest); part of it is that the movie itself was disappointing enough that you don't really need to talk about actual accuracy to feel it did history a disservice.

Still, it's kind of amazing just how thoroughly the filmmakers seem to have missed the mark on what is interesting and what is not. A quick search on Gen. Bonner Fellers yielded both his Wikipedia page and this book excerpt which suggested that Fellers and MacArthur proactively acted to prevent Hirohito from coming before a tribunal, as opposed to that being a hoped-for conclusion. I suspect that it's not so easy to make a movie about subverting the machinery of justice to achieve what one feels may be a greater good, but who needs the easy movie? The moral ambiguities there are more interesting to chew on, as well: Consider how the second link mentions how this action influenced Japan's perception of the war, allowing them to more easily cast themselves as victims as opposed to aggressors.

And then there's Aya Shimada. I don't know whether she's real or not, but she feels like something a lazy screenwriter would come up with, from how she seems to exist to fulfill plot necessities to how she really doesn't fit into the real Fellers's timeline: She's a college student in 1932, and while it's possible that Fellers could have been on campus working on a doctorate at the time, but what I could see online was the Fellers became interested in Japanese culture by meeting an exchange student in 1914. Still possible in the movie's timeline, but in that case, is meeting Aya not quite so transformative, and she's less the direct representation of Japan to him as he tries to rebuild it.

In the end, Emperor may not be strictly inaccurate, but it seems to choose the least interesting parts of the story. Which is a shame, because there's fascinating stuff there.


* * (out of four)
Seen 10 March 2013 in AMC Boston Common #19 (first-run, 4K digital)

Under normal circumstances, I might grumble about Emperor being a case of keeping an interesting story and larger-than-life characters at arm's length in favor of someone that the audience can perhaps more easily relate to. In this case, though, things seem like they've been made a bit more bland beyond that. There's a fascinating moment of history here that too often seems to be playing second fiddle.

That moment is in 1945, when General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) arrives in Tokyo after Japan's surrender to oversee the occupation and reconstruction of Japan. Initially, Emperor Hirohito is not on the list to be arrested for war crimes, but many in the United States want him to hang, and have given MacArthur ten days to provide a recommendation one way or the other. MacArthur delegates the job to General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox), the member of his staff who understands Japan the best - although Fellers is also spending a fair amount of time looking for Aya Shimada (Eriko Hatsune), a former girlfriend he last saw before the war.

It's not hard to see what the filmmakers are looking to do here (and perhaps author Shiro Okamoto, whose work was adapted), showing the war and its aftermath on both the scale of nations and individuals. The trouble is, the thread of Bonner & Aya is just not that interesting. It's a story that we've seen a great many times before, right down to the flashbacks of meeting while she's in college (what the World War I vet Bonners is doing there in 1933 is not clear), happier times, and separation, and neither these particular characters or situations seem special. That flashback structure is a chestnut, and a particularly silly and limiting one here: It keeps Bonners from looking in the most obvious place until the viewer is caught up, and not because there's a particular sense of him not being ready to face it until then.

Full review on eFilmCritic.

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