Emperor: Disappointing Tale of U.S. Occupation of Japan, Starring Matthew Fox

Reportedly the first Hollywood film to be set during the U.S. occupation of Japan at the end of World War II, Emperor is a disappointingly weak film, and a missed opportunity to dramatize effectively a little-known but significant chapter in history.

On the one hand, Emperor is trying to do too much, to be an effective tale of secret love as well as international intrigue in a post-war world where trust simply doesn’t exist.

On the other, the filmmakers cannot find what’s truly interesting about the above episode, resulting in a film that is dramatically inert and not particularly well acted either.

Based on the events of 1945, following the traumatic dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the story begins with the unconditional surrender of Japan’s sacred leader, Emperor Hirohito.

Faced with leading the Allied Powers’ occupation of the ravaged country, President Harry S. Truman tasks the American hero General Douglas MacArthur with the almost impossible job of restoring law and order in the defeated country, and preparing the way for democratic elections.

Even before his arrival in a firebombed Tokyo reduced to rubble, on August 30, MacArthur face an extraordinary dilemma: What to do about the Emperor?

software oemShould the revered near-God man and the living embodiment of the Japanese spirit stand trial and be hanged to pay for the war’s brutal crimes. Or could there be any other way of moving forward?

Enter the film’s real protagonist, Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox), an American given a few days to investigate if the Emperor’s prosecution should proceed. Is Fellers the right man for the task? He is established as a citizen with a deep love of Japanese culture, who needs to assist MacArthur in choosing the bold course.

It’s too bade that the screenplay, credited to by David Klass and Vera Blasi, is so amorphous.  Unlike MacArthur’s, Fellers’ story had been lost in the annals of World War II, known only to history buffs . For example, Fellers finds himself swept up not only into a dangerous political game, but also driven into a search for the Japanese woman who had introduced him to Japan’s soulful beauty.

Though claiming to have conducted a throrough historical research, Klass and Blasi have fictionalized some of the facts and tempered with some of the real persona.

The little-known episode is full of possibilities, potentially provocative and intriguing human and moral questions, none of which gets a particularly deep or thorough treatment in the movie.

The saga is situated in a peculiar, unique, shifty historical time: The battle has ended but there is no peace and order yet. Thus, the players are vulnerable—their motions are shady, their emotions raw, their nerves and hearts are on edge, not to mention their conflict due to the inevitable clash between  political and personal agendas.  The film seldom addresses the crucial question: Are the characters motivated by primal instincts for bloody vengeance and/or by dreams of reconciliation?