Making the Grades
In Emperor it’s 1945 and Japan surrenders, effectively bringing World War II to a close, after the United States drops two atomic bombs on the island country. But while Allied Forces are cheering the victory, the island country is on the brink of anarchy. With the task of assisting Japan to rebuild and restructure as a healthy democracy General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) journeys to the Land of the Rising Sun.
Amongst MacArthur’s substantial entourage is General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox), a man who had pre-war experience living in Japan and also had a relationship with Aya, a Japanese girl (played by Eriko Hatsune) he had earlier met in the US. Upon their arrival MacArthur assigns Fellers to the onerous task of investigating Emperor Hirohito’s (Takatarô Kataoka) involvement with the notorious crimes against humanity that Japan committed during the war. The outcome will ultimately determine if Hirohito lives or dies—and the decision will undoubtedly forever affect the tenuous relationship between the two countries. The single star general reluctantly accepts the task but is also distracted by the prospect of trying to locate Aya and determine if she survived the nuclear attacks.
Emperor is, sadly, a movie that didn’t have a lot of confidence behind it. The studio promoted it with Tommy Lee Jones as the star. Certainly Jones’s character, General MacArthur, is critical to the story but the role of protagonist and storyteller falls on the shoulders of lesser-known actor Fox. It is through his character’s eyes that we learn of the complex relationships between the officials of the Japanese military and government rulers. That situation, along with the love interest (which is likely far more fiction than fact) forms the backbone of the story.
Parents can expect to see the post-war destruction with people eking out a living amongst the ruins of the city. There is talk of Japanese leaders avoiding arrest by committing suicide and we see one man just after the act with his head resting on a blood-covered desk. Depictions of smoking and drinking also abound in this period film, along with infrequent profanities (including a single sexual expletive).
Depending on your own political views of Hirohito, you may or may not appreciate the sympathy this film elicits for a ruler whose minions were responsible for heinous war crimes comparable to the German Nazis. However Emperor is commended for portraying this oft overlooked post WWII period, even if it does gloss over some points of history that should not be forgotten.
Release Date: 8 March 2013 (Limited)
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Emperor.
Recent interviews and discovery of records reveal that Japanese nationals were involved in heinous war crimes including experiments carried out on live men, women and children involving surgical mutations and testing of chemical and biological agents. A 1995 article in the New York Times reveals that the US Army granted immunity from war crimes prosecution to the doctors involved.
What responsibility would the Emperor hold for these crimes? Do you think he should be accountable even if he wasn’t aware of what was happening?
Learn more about General MacArthur and his role in Japan’s surrender.