Is it possible to examine the past when the fate of a nation rested on your shoulders? That’s part of the premise behind the DVD release of “Emperor,” which showcased one man’s quest to find the truth even if it wasn’t the one that everyone wanted to hear. The story had some major potential that was sadly squandered by telling it from a familiar angle than one that simply told the truth itself.
“Emperor” followed how General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) was tasked with restoring Japan and punishing those who played a larger role in starting World War II. The story showed how the first few days that immediately followed Japan’s surrender were quite tense for everyone involved. MacArthur was tasked with finding out whether the nation’s much respected Emperor (Takatoro Kataoka) played a much larger role in making World War II a reality. Unfortunately, MacArthur has been given a 10 day deadline to determine whether the Emperor should be held responsible or let go to help boost Japanese morale after losing the war. In order to speed up the process, he enlisted the help of General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) for his familiarity with the country and his willingness to find out the truth at all costs. As the investigation went forward, Fellers was plagued with memories of his past love Aya (Eriko Hatsune) who he was separated from due to cultural differences and wartime politics that kept them from ever truly being together. He tried to search for his lost love to see if they still had a future together, but the deadline for the investigation was drawing closer by the minute. The Emperor’s fate rested solely on Fellers finding the rest amount of proof needed to tell MacArthur that could make or break his military career. Will Fellers search for the truth or take the easy way out?
In terms of questions, the movie’s overall story seemed to wrap everything neatly enough for viewers to feel satisfied for the most part. Sadly, there was one that was foolishly overlooked from start to finish, which was why Fox’s clearly supporting character took center stage while Jones’ was merely a minor player whenever it was necessary to liven up any quiet moments. It was a huge mistake to tell the story from Fox’s perspective, because the character’s story has been done before in different degrees with much better results. The movie should’ve also focused on Fellers’ investigation, which included his working relationship with the complex General. It’s a shame that the movie didn’t give Jones much of an opportunity to shine on-screen, even though he did play a large role in a few pivotal scenes that made it worth seeing. Jones was the ideal casting choice to bring General MacArthur to life on the big screen. Whenever he came on the screen, Jones gave him a unique swagger that was solely lacking in the rest of the movie. Sure, Hollywood has been known to give various historical figures the big screen treatment by giving the talented actors who played them the chance to shine, such as Daniel Day-Lewis in “Lincoln” It also didn’t help that the movie’s pacing was uneven at best because it tended to linger on the romantic plot moments, while the investigation side of the story seemed to have wrapped up much too quickly. Fox did have a decent rapport with Hatsune, but the flashback scenes failed to explain why Fox’s Fellers would risk everything for a woman he was never truly meant to be with.
As for breakout performances, Jones and Fox led the pack as two very different characters who shared one similiar goal to find out the truth before delivering what could be a shocking decision for everyone involved. Jones embodied MacArthur with the right amount of attitude and confidence that made him a force to be reckoned with on-screen without going over-the-top. Jones’ most memorable scene came towards the end of the movie when he came face-to-face with the Emperor for the first time. Instead of following cultural formalities, Jones’ MacArthur treated the Emperor like a regular person in an effort to get to the true task at hand. He gave the scene the perfect mixture of subtlety and strength that made it worth waiting for. It’s just disappointing that there weren’t more moments like this to draw moviegoers into the story. Fox, on the other hand, had the challenging task of trying to lure viewers into his character’s tale of failed romantic longing and objectivity. Unfortunately, he wasn’t always able to do that due to the uneven nature of his character’s story. The romantic aspect of Fellers’ story occasionally seemed one-sided at times because of cultural differences. It also didn’t help that the plot wasn’t fully developed to show why Fellers loved Aya, or just the mere idea of her now. Fox’s most memorable scene came after he wrapped up his part of the investigation and he had the dubious task of explaining his findings to the General, which could get him into serious trouble. He gave Fellers a sense of strength that wasn’t always there until that very moment, which was gone just as quickly as it appeared. When it comes to telling true stories, it’s best to keep things simple and honest; for the most part, to keep moviegoers interested in what could be a great story.
Verdict: Fox and Jones gave memorable performances, but the story should have been told from a different perspective instead of a failed wartime romance to give moviegoers more of an idea of what was going after the war ended.
DVD Score: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Movie Rating: PG-13
1 Star (Mediocre)
2 Stars (Averagely Entertaining)
3 Stars (Decent Enough to Pass Muster)
4 Stars (Near Perfect)
5 Stars (Gold Standard)