How many WWII movies can you name that aren’t preachy or too sentimentally one-sided? This seems to be the way of the motion picture as far as the second World War is concerned (think Michael Bay’s epic Pearl Harbor), and though there is always a place for it, seldom does it ever evoke any reaction from the viewer other than the forgettable typical sympathy. That is until now. Enter, Emperor.
Producers Yoko Narahashi and Eugene Normura are two very bright and righteously insightful Japanese filmmakers who saw the potential to take a story beyond the conservative outlooks of the Pearl Harbor attacks or the liberal viewpoints from overseas. What they bring you now, courtesy of both Roadside Attractions Productions and Lionsgate Pictures, is Emperor, a searing and effective telling of the agreement between General Douglas MacArthur (beautifully portrayed with spunk, wit, and a touch of ginger by Tommy Lee Jones) and Emperor Hirohito (Japan’s Takatarô Kataoka) that integrated and dissolved political differences between Japan and the U.S.
This, however, is the minor substory to what’s really being told: General Bonner Fellers (a hunky and A-list turn full of aplomb for Matthew Fox) has been positioned to go after the Emperor and find out if he shall be blamed for the attack on Pearl Harbor or if it was something else. Along the way, however, he is also looking for his long lost love, Aya (a solid turn for the beautiful Eriko Hatsune), a Japanese teacher who taught at a school house that was bombed. The search for both the Emperor and Aya is a tortuous one, full of self-discoveries to our hero Bonner Fellers.
For all of it’s tame troubleshooting, both regarding WWII and a thinly veiled attempt to tackle the recent war on terrorism,Emperor is still a very valiant effort. Shot on kodak film stock, with surprisingly steady camera work, the film acts as a completely fictionalized account of the true story which it’s reenacting, and director Peter Webber (Girl with the Pearl Earring, Hannibal Rising) doesn’t miss a beat. The pacing of the story is exactly as thought out as it needs to be, offering moments of emotional dread for Bonner, intermingled with happier moments as seen through flashbacks.
In a world of Hollywood gone mad, one feels like they are actually watching a movie again. This boasts very interesting visual decisions, captured by director Webber, to help complex the viewpoint of the film and subsequently the audience. There is also a very sociological way about this movie, and what it presents about WWII. By this, there are no good, or bad sides to this story, no characters presented as right or wrong. There are only two sides that need to communicate to each other, despite the recent actions on both parts.
All other elements to the film help to illuminate this path. The musical score by Alex Heffes is phenomenal, recalling the days of Patton, or Tora! Tora! Tora! by Jerry Goldsmith, or Midway by John Williams- both Oscar winning composers. If the Academy knows what’s good for them, they will nominate this score. Alex Heffes is more or less an up-and-comer, and a score like this should put him right on the map.
It may seem like a tame film compared to the Django’s of today, but when it all comes down, Emperor is a battle of a good picture offering social and historical insight, boasting great performances, and proving that Hollywood can still put a great movie to flight.
In the battle of Box Office draw, this one should be a real winner.
Emperor runs 106 minutes and is rated PG-13. Watch the trailer here.