Monday, 4 August 2014

Emperor (3 Stars)

Revenge is not the same thing as justice.

This is the true story of the events of September 1945. After the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki Japan had surrendered, and was now being occupied by America. General MacArthur travelled to Tokyo with two aims. First, he had to round up war criminals for execution, and second he had to establish a new government to rule Japan as a peaceful nation. He gave his aide General Fellers the task of finding evidence about Emperor Hirohito's role in the war, effectively to decide whether he should be executed or not.

At first glance it might have seemed clear cut. Hirohito was Japan's leader, so why shouldn't he have been guilty? On the other hand, he was only 18 years old, and 14 at the time Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor. As the investigations continued it became more and more unclear. He was considered a living God by the Japanese, and as such he was above the mundane issues of political decisions. He was present at top government meetings, but traditionally he remained silent.

General Bonner Fellers was the ideal man for the job, since he had a deep knowledge of Japanese culture. He had written a paper on "The Mentality of the Japanese Soldier", not an easy topic for a Westerner to understand. Apart from this, while at college he had dated a Japanese girl. The end result of his investigations led to Hirohito continuing as Japanese Emperor until 1989. 

General MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito, September 17, 1945

As my regular readers know, I'm fascinated by Japanese culture, so this film was of great interest to me. There are first class performances by Tommy Lee Jones as Douglas MacArthur and Matthew Fox as Bonner Fellers. I almost didn't recognise Matthew Fox in the film, because his face has become more gaunt since he starred in "Lost". My main criticism of the film is that not enough happens. It has the style of a courtroom drama, as the investigations into Hirohito's past continue, but there aren't enough key events to have the plot twists typical for that genre. The flashbacks to General Fellers' love affair seem out of place, as if intended to pad the film's 100 minutes rather than supply character depth. Another problem is that the film doesn't use Hirohito's age as a mitigating factor. He had become emperor on the day of his birth in December 1926. When Japan invaded China in 1937 he may have been Japan's ruler, but he was only 10 years old. To what degree was he responsible?

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