ROTTENTOMATOES.COM IMPERIAL FLOP Jones shines as General MacArthur in an otherwise weak film.
IMPERIAL FLOP Jones shines as General MacArthur in an otherwise weak film.

Following in the footsteps of films like Titanic and Pearl Harbor, the movie Emperor recreates true events with enough historical significance to compose a fascinating film. With fewer impressive visual effects than James Cameron’s triumph and more seasoned acting than Michael Bay’s attempt at depicting historical fiction, Emperor falls into the trap of fashioning a romantic subplot that detracts from the more meaningful message of the film.

Directed by Peter Webber, Emperor is less of a postwar movie and more of a film that recounts the formation of peaceful relations between the U.S. and Japan after World War II. In fact, it has the potential to be moving. However, the contrived romantic longing of Brigadier General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) and his flashbacks to important points in his relationship with Aya Shimada (Eriko Hatsune), a Japanese student with whom he fell in love at college in Colorado, distract the audience and undermine the emotional impact of the plot.

Upon his arrival in Tokyo after the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II, General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) orders Fellers, his protege, to conduct an investigation regarding the role that Japanese emperor Hirohito (Takataro Kataoka) played in the events at Pearl Harbor. In the spirit of a military leader as controversial as MacArthur, he demands that Fellers report his assessment of Hirohito’s involvement in war crimes in a mere ten days and subsequently determine whether he should be prosecuted, essentially saying, “You have to accomplish this nearly-impossible task, the results of which will affect both the future of Japan and the probability of my presidential nomination — but hey, no pressure.”

It may not be completely clear whether Jones is simply playing himself as a military leader or if he and General MacArthur share remarkably similar cantankerous personalities. If you’re familiar with historical figures, you will appreciate the nuances of gruffness in Jones’ portrayal; the actor’s trademark scowl is more than suitable in this instance. Actually, Jones’ performance is the most redeeming quality of the film.

In reference to Japan’s reverence of Hirohito as a divine figure, MacArthur states, “I’ve never met an emperor before, much less a god. What the hell do you say to a god?”

Despite the general’s uncertainty, upon his encounter with the monarch, MacArthur violates every instruction given to him about emperor-meeting etiquette. The scene in which MacArthur towers over Hirohito’s meek stature is the most captivating part of the entire film — and the snapshot taken of the pair resembles an actual photograph to commemorate the event.

Webber, director of the memorable 2004 film Girl with a Pearl Earring, as well as screenwriters David Klass and Vera Blasi, choose to neglect the finesse in every signature hands-on-hips placement that Jones executes in order to bring his character to life. Instead, they replace what could have been more screen time of the actor’s mastery of MacArthur’s persona with a forgettable romance.

The love story between Fellers and Aya is too sappy to comprise a tasteful incorporation of cinematic romance but not juicy enough to render itself a greater point of interest than the historical narrative (another area in which Titanic prevails). If the film in any way mimics Fellers’ actual reputation, then his military status was questionable; in the movie, he spends half of his allocated time searching for an evasive, long-lost love.

Sometimes, the accurate story really is more entertaining.

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