It’s always fascinating to find a certain facet to World War 2 and delve into it, as although the War has been covered so extensively in film, Peter Webber’s Emperor proves there are always areas left untouched and inspiring stories not yet told. The forthcoming Colin Firth title The Railway Man proves a similar point, as two films that look into the conflicting politics concerning the Japanese army during such a time.
Taking place in the final stages of the Second World War, there’s an intense and ambivalent atmosphere as the Japanese surrender, as the future of Emperor Hirohito (Takatarô Kataoka) lies in the balance, as he potentially faces the death penalty for war crimes. Supreme Commander of the occupying forces, General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones), leaves the decision of whether the Emperor will be trialled with General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox), a Japanese expert, who sets off to undertake his research, before committing to a decision that comes with great historical importance. In the meanwhile, there is an additional motive for Fellers, as he sets off to locate the whereabouts of Aya Shimada (Eriko Hatsune) – hoping to reignite a former love affair.
Webber has found a strong balance between the two conflicting narratives; the poignant romance and the severe politics. They are intertwined effectively too, coming together without contrivance, as while the former seeks in highlighting the futility of war, the latter seeks in depicting just how dangerous love can be during such a fragile time in history. Though initially feeling superfluous, both themes end up making sense of the other as the film builds towards a memorable finale.
Fox is subtle as our lead, and plays the role with a level on sincerity that is required, even if eeling like something of a cipher in the process. On the other hand, Lee Jones adds that touch of class to proceedings, though doing so in somewhat different circumstances, playing the role in an overstated manner, and though showing off his acting credentials, he does feel almost like he’s parodying himself at times. There are also roles for a few Japanese translators in the feature – and it’s their very inclusion that epitomises why Emperor is a commendable piece of filmmaking. It opts for authenticity over drama, and the Japanese don’t just speak English to appease an American audience, and the film benefits as a result of this particular approach.
Nonetheless, Emperor does grow tedious in points, feeling longer than it actually is as it drags in the middle stages. The progression in the narrative is not quite sustainable enough, as effectively not much happens between the opening act and the finale, as we watch our protagonist mulling around, doing his all important ‘research’. Ultimately, this film is based on one inspiring, and politically momentous decision in history, and though there is a degree of triviality preceding it, fortunately for Webber, it’s a verdict that is quite worth waiting for.