Rated: PG-13 for violent content, brief strong language and smoking (historical). Reviewed by: Jim Release date: March 8, 2013 Released by: ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS
Director Peter Webber, as in his 17th Century-set tale Girl With A Pearl Earring, has repression and moral rectitude to deal with in his new well-crafted, but rather stiff historical drama, Emperor, that doesn't provide as much educational value because of box-office needs.
Starring Tommy Lee Jones (Lincoln) and Matthew Fox (Alex Cross, Vantage Point), it relates how Gen. Douglas MacArthur became sympathetic toward Japan's much revered Emperor Hirohito who would not be treated like Prime Minister Hideki Tojo upon the aforementioned country's surrender to the Allies in 1945.
Jones relates the gruff presence of an influential military man during the coverage of noticeable political tension here, but isn't the main character. It's Fox's Gen. Bonner Fellers in dapper mode as a top aide to MacArthur on an inquiry to see if Hirohito should be tried as a war criminal. Fellers has a distinct advantage in his quest when it comes to psychological warfare and Japanese culture; could he find Hirohito's presence in Pearl Harbor and his country's devastating military machine?
Even though MacArthur knew of the ramifications of offering a man bowed-to like this to the gallows, Fellers was allowed (in less than two weeks) to do some interviews to justify that presence in the war. The granite-visage in Fox lets the character's research occasionally taking a backseat to reliving his time with pulchritudinous Aya (a reserved Eriko Hatsune) whom he met in an Ivy League school. Fellers' interest in finding his lost love patronizes him as a victim of underage miscreants.
Obviously, Webber who had worked meticulously with his production crew to present the tale of Johannes Vermeer with a diverting peasant maid (Scarlett Johannson) gets craft contributions to set up a compromising postwar reality (including a bombed-out Tokyo). Unfortunately, Jones (whose Allied Supreme Commander had presidential aspirations) isn't allowed in a blandly told tale from Vera Blasi to chew the scenery well enough to provide vibrant counterpoint or perspective to the love story (including flashbacks) during the initial occupation. Fox has, for most, impressed more on the small than silver screen, and physically seems well-suited for the love-sick Fellers but never really thrives in the role. The rapport with Hatsune may be muted to a degree due to the way the actress approaches the role in accordance with the restrictions/mores of the time. Even with its way of ennobling a culture with an air of respect and dignity, Emperor ends up as mediocre melodrama.