Do you see that year in the title? Yes, it is this year and indeed it’s the very present and a rare opportunity for Tokyo Fox to review an actual current release! In fact, this movie will not get a UK release date for a couple more months which is the opposite of what usually happens with any western movie production being released in Japan!
However, as its a new film I don’t think its best to reveal too much in the way of plot spoilers even though you know the historical outcome! The storyline is a fairly easy one to follow with General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) being hired by General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) to investigate Emperor Hirohito’s role during WWII and whether he should subsequently be tried as a war criminal.
Don’t be fooled by that synopsis though as ‘Emperor‘ is not a war movie as there are no battle scenes and instead it focuses on the aftermath of the war and the true price of peace. Naturally, with all western films about Japan there is also some stuff about cultural adaptation as Fox’s character gets to grips with Japanese attitudes towards conflict, and how they differ from those embraced by people in the west. His work is further complicated by his memories of a girl called Maya (Eriko Hatsune) who he fell in love with during his college days which we see via a series of flashbacks. Not only is he searching for a conclusion within a 10 day framework to the emperor’s situation but he’s also keen to trace his lost love. Searching for two different things sees some quite touching scenes and leads him to the chef (veteran actor Toshiyuki Nishida) from ‘The Ramen Girl‘ (2008) who shares his wisdom with him.
Jones’ portrayal of MacArthur has been the topic of much debate but I didn’t really have a problem with it and indeed thought that his mannerisms in particular were seemingly captured very well. My problem was that, despite getting top billing, he doesn’t get enough screen time for such an important figure. MacArthur’s opinion is that his job would be far easier if Hirohito stays as emperor as he believes that with no god-like figure the Japanese people will kill themselves en masse. The powers that be in Washington see things a bit differently!
The movie was filmed in Auckland and Wellington in New Zealand as well as Tokyo itself where I assume some scenes really were filmed in the vicinity of the Imperial Palace rather than being faked in a studio somewhere. Sugamo Prison even features which has long been replaced by the Sunshine 60 building in Ikebukuro which featured in my Tokyo’s Most Haunted Sights feature last year. The wartime devastation scenes are particularly impressive and overall the cinematography was pleasing and so it should be given the generous budget of the film!
Whilst I found ‘Emperor‘ quite intriguing due to my interest in such topic matter I do think that many neutral viewers may find it a bit slow not that I can really see it attracting much of a general audience. When I watched it one afternoon, the place was almost full of ojiisan and obaasan! It’s a dialogue driven film with some interesting scenery and the interwoven love subplot helps push the movie along as a decision of huge historical importance affecting all future relations between the US and Japan is ultimately decided.
Tokyo Fox Rating 7/10