dir Peter Webber
scr Vera Blasi, David Klass
prd Gary Foster, Russ Krasnoff, Yoko Narahashi, Eugene Nomura
with Matthew Fox, Tommy Lee Jones, Eriko Hatsune, Masayoshi Haneda, Colin Moy, Toshiyuki Nishida, Takataro Kataoka, Masatoshi Nakamura, Masato Ibu, Isao Natsuyagi, Kaori Momoi, Aaron Jackson
release US 8.Mar.13, Jpn 27.Jul 13,
UK 4.Oct.13
12/Japan 1h45
Love interest: Fox and Hatsune

jones haneda
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Emperor Although it's beautifully filmed, this fascinating true drama is compromised by a fictional sideplot and the casting of likeable but one-note actors in the lead roles. Even so, the little-known historical events provide a pointed exploration of a momentous collision of two cultures.

After Japan's surrender in August 1945, General MacArthur (Jones) is charged with determining whether Emperor Hirohito (Kataoka) will be tried for war crimes. So he assigns General Fellers (Fox) to discover Hirohito's role in the war. Fellers has some experience with Japanese culture, after falling for Aya (Hatsune) at university and then spending time with her in Japan before the war. Working with his translator Takahashi (Haneda), Fellers interviews various officials, while also looking for news about Aya.

Frankly, it's laughable that a high-ranking officer would divert his attention from such a vital job to indulge in some personal sleuthing. And sure enough, the entire romantic storyline is utterly fictitious. We never care about Fellers' relationship with Aya, which plays out in soft-focus flashbacks to Happier Times. It doesn't help that Fox is too swaggering to be a romantic leading man. Much more interesting is the barely explored connection between Fellers and Takahashi, played with subtle texture by the terrific Haneda.

On the other hand, Fox plays the investigative scenes with a strong sense of emotional resonance, beautifully conveying the stakes as well as the delicacies of cross-cultural diplomacy. And Jones prowls through his scenes like a cute-but-deadly grizzly bear. There isn't much nuance to his typically sassy southerner, although his impeccable timing keeps us smiling. He also has enough gravitas to add some underlying gritty intelligence, because surely MacArthur wasn't this cavalier about such a pivotal decision.

Meanwhile, Webber creates the time and place with skilful production design, camera work and costumes, adding earthy authenticity to the usual languid elegance of Japanese settings while also recreating the shocking devastation of war. We know about the two atomic bombs, but the film reminds us of hundreds of thousands of casualties in other raids, which cleverly questions America's moral authority. As victors, they make the rules, but their colonial and wartime actions weren't any nobler. And this shot of resonance is what lingers after the credits roll.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 25.Jun.13

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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall