As soon as Allied troops landed in Japan, General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) assigns Brigadier General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) to assemble evidence to exonerate Emperor Hirohito (Takataro Kataoka) of Class-A war crimes. MacArthur, as Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in Japan, warns Fellers in “Emperor”: “If I arrest the Emperor, I’ll face mass suicides, possibly open revolt.” (MacArthur had wired President Truman that indicting Hirohito would “unquestionably cause a tremendous convulsion among the Japanese people” and necessitate an occupation with “a million troops… for an indefinite number of years.”) Screenwriters David Klass and Vera Blasi detail the stagecraft and statecraft of demoting a “living deity” and installing an anti-Stalinist democracy. For Fellers, they invent a love interest: a Japanese woman he meets at an Ohio college in 1932. Aya (Eriko Hatsune) returns to Japan before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Fellers will try to find her, while tracking down the military elite that engineered the Greater East Asia War. The script omits the anti-Semitic sentiments Fellers imparted to Japanese suspects during his forty or so interrogations in late 1945. But simplisms for making sense of Japan abound, starting with his 1940 trip to Japan to see Aya, who tells him, “The army is teaching kids to hate foreigners.” She aids his research on a paper titled “The Psychology of the Japanese.” Various characters relate: “This is a nation of contradictions” and “If you understand devotion, you understand Japan.” Alexander Sokurov’s “The Sun” (2005) imagined Hirohito’s encounter with MacArthur with far more nuance and insight than “Emperor,” directed indifferently by Peter Webber, which also compares poorly to recent American history procedurals “Lincoln” and “Zero Dark Thirty.” With Masayoshi Haneda, Toshiyuki Nishida, Colin Moy, Isao Natsuyagi. 106m. (Bill Stamets)
“Emperor” opens Friday.
Ray Pride is Newcity’s film critic and a contributing editor to Filmmaker magazine.
His multimedia history of Chicago “Ghost Signs” will be published soon. Previews of the project are on Twitter and on Instagram as Ghost Signs Chicago. More photography on Instagram.