Emperor – Japan/United States – Peter Webber

I was not sure about this movie when I picked it out, could it be a routine laudatory picture of General Douglas MacArthur, the ruthless U.S. Commander in the Pacific during World War Two? A kind of homage to the U.S. military? But it did star Tommy Lee Jones and he has a reputation for movies that are somewhat more thoughtful about the U.S. and its politics – In the Valley of Elah and great stories like No Country for Old Men. So I took a chance.

This movie may not be out for a while yet as we saw a version only completed two weeks before it was presented at TIFF. It is a joint venture with Japanese producers and uses American and Japanese actors, and a British Director who honed his skills at the BBC. It tells the story of the start of the American occupation of Japan after the conclusion of the war and specifically the story of whether or not the Emperor of Japan – Hirohito would be tried as a war criminal and likely executed. MacArthur is played by Jones but the main character is one of his officers played by Mathew Fox a relatively unknown actor but who turns in an excellent performance. Fox is charged with presenting MacArthur with evidence one way or the other as to whether Hirohito was complicit in Japan going to war or if he was innocent. The unique quality that Fox’s character brings to the task is that he has knowledge and respect for Japanese culture and a romantic connection with the daughter of one of Japan’s leading generals from before the war. The film follows his attempts to track his lost love down and learn her fate while breaking down the defences around the Emperor to determine his guilt or innocence.

We were lucky to have the director there for a Q and A. Usually by this time in the week everyone has gone home and the TIFF staff do not even introduce the movies. So it was bonus time for us. Webber was very good and was asked some tough questions. The toughest was: “Did he feel the film had a message for us today?”. As I watched the movie I thought how impressive it was that here was a man acting for the U.S. in a country they had just devastated with both conventional and nuclear weapons but who knew and respected its traditions and people. I could not help thinking of the quality of the U.S ambassador to Libya recently killed by an angry mob. This was a great diplomat who won many allies for the U.S. but his death was greeted with ignorance and stupidity by the likes of Romney and Donald Trump (who shamelessly and ignorantly proclaimed that Libya had declared war on America). Here however we see how knowledge and respect wins friends while ignorance and bluster cause resentment. The director answered the question with some trepidation. He asked if the audience was all Canadian and then asked how many Americans were present. About a third of the audience put up their hands. He shrugged and apologized and said he meant no offence but that he wished George Bush had seen this film before he blundered into Iraq. Much applause.

The other question of interest was about the Japanese actors. Many of them spoke English in the film but apparently most had no idea what the words meant. He said he had great respect for them as serious actors. The man who plays Hirohito was in fact a Kabuki actor who usually plays women. Apparently for the very few but important scenes he has in the film, he studied film of the former Emperor and learned his mannerisms and gait and completely absorbed himself in the role. Webber says he is going to be very interested in seeing how audiences in Japan react to the film.

So remember this one. The anticipated release is spring 2013 so they are not looking for Oscars but this is good movie with a worthy message.

A review of the film I read was not positive concluding with (full review at: Playlist ):

All told, “Emperor” delivers a perfectly serviceable wartime movie, with its intentions in the right place. At the same time its harmlessness and adherence to a formulaic storytelling style means the film has no voice of its own and at its worst can feel like the cinematic equivalent of making sure you get enough fiber in your diet. But Tommy Lee Jones at least does make the endeavor worthwhile, pointing toward the better film that could have been made, instead of the one we got.

They got it wrong. Definitely worth your time.

Emperor

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