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Emperor - Review


Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

PETER Webber’s Emperor is a flawed but fascinating insight into a significant but little known piece of Second World War history.

Set in the days following Japan’s surrender, the film chronicles the attempts by American General Bonner Fellers (played by Matthew Fox) to determine whether Emperor Hirohito should be tried for war crimes and executed.

Under the leadership of ambitious General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones), Fellers must weigh up his own nation’s desire for revenge for war atrocities dating back to Pearl Harbor with Japan’s need for rebuilding.

In doing so, he must decide how culpable the Emperor was in leading Japan to war, or whether he stood by helpless against the agenda of others.

Webber, whose past films include Girl With A Pearl Earring and Hannibal Rising, said he was moved to make Emperor because of a love of Japan and a desire to make a historical film that has contemporary resonance.

Hence, he believes that the peace process employed by Fellers and MacArthur was far more considered than that which followed many recent campaigns, most notably in Iraq. He believes there are lessons to be learned.

And it’s during these moments that Emperor excels, expertly tapping into the complexity of the issue and a genuine desire to find the truth no matter how unpopular it made those seeking it.

Some have inevitably criticised the film for feeling too sympathetic towards Japan, while Webber himself admits there are still those experts who believe the investigation was done for show and that the US never had any intention of executing Hirohito in the first place.

But the film never feels like it’s taking sides and portrays each person involved with flaws. Indeed, MacArthur himself is seen as both an egotistical, power-hungry man and an astute leader and would-be politician. It’s a great role for Jones.

Fox, too, imbues his Fellers with a classic Western quality befitting the Hollywood leading men of yesteryear and is a compelling presence throughout.

The film only really drags during a romantic sub-plot involving Fellers’ search for a former lover – but even that is based in truth. The romance, sadly, struggles to convince and pulls viewers out of the central story.

In all regards, though, Emperor is an intelligent, thought-provoking and utterly engrossing film that finally shines a deserved light on an important moment in history.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 105mins
UK Release Date: October 4, 2013