There are several interesting elements tucked away inside "Emperor." Most prominently, there is Americaâ€™s post-WWII occupation of Japan, which involved investigating the role of the countryâ€™s emperor in Pearl Harbor and determining his future. There is also the presence of General Douglas MacArthur, played with showy bravado by recent Oscar nominee Tommy Lee Jones. These are potent, dynamic stories and characters that could make for a fascinating film.
Unfortunately, director Peter Webberâ€™s war drama doesn't have much interest in these elements. Instead, "Emperor" hitches its wagon to Matthew Fox from "Lost" and his bland historical romance. Sure, the drama of holding the fate of a countryâ€™s leader (and an entire country for that matter) plays a role in "Emperor," but it feels shockingly slight considering how much time we spend with Foxâ€™s droopy love story.
Fox plays Bonner Fellers, a U.S. General heading off to post-WWII Japan. The country is reeling from the bombings on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and now America â€“ led by General MacArthur â€“ is coming in to rebuild, as well as to investigate whether Emperor Hirohito deserves blame and punishment for his role in Japanâ€™s attack on Pearl Harbor and the fighting in the Pacific.
MacArthur selects Fellers to lead the investigation, mainly because of his knowledge and understanding of Japan, its people and its culture. The young military man has his hands full, however, with another, more personal goal: finding an old flame (Eriko Hatsune) from his college days who may have perished in the numerous bombing raids on the country.
Youâ€™d think the moral dilemma of determining whether or not a ruler deserves to hang would merit the most screen time, but apparently writers Vera Blasi and David Klass disagree. Audiences are instead treated to an extended look at Fellersâ€™s relationship, ranging from their time at school to their courting in Japan to his desperate search for her current whereabouts.
True, the subplot does add to Fellers as a character, but it draws more of the filmâ€™s attention than the complex real-life wartime drama, and worst of all, itâ€™s just not all that interesting. Their love story is a standard-issue romance â€“ cue the happy couple running through a field, or bamboo forest in this case â€“ with an equally dull actor in the lead. Fox may look the part of a square-jawed all-American soldier, but itâ€™s not a particularly captivating performance.
It looks even more tepid next to Tommy Lee Jonesâ€™s lively portrayal of General MacArthur. When we first meet the legendary general, heâ€™s landing in Japan, putting on a show of American swagger with his corncob pipe and boisterous demeanor. As "Emperor" goes on, weâ€™re not even sure how much we can trust him, as his decision about the emperor may be just as motivated by his lofty political aspirations as Fellersâ€™s final report.
Itâ€™s a complicated character (made even more entertaining by Jonesâ€™s typically grumpy snap) that makes you wonder why we couldnâ€™t be following him instead of our milquetoast hero and his mopey romantic dramas, both past and present.
When "Emperor" decides to put the focus on the history rather than Foxâ€™s love story, it struggles to bring it to life. Webber has a gorgeous eye â€“ one shot of a houseâ€™s yellow windows against the purple sky at dusk is breathtaking â€“ but when it comes to creating something equally compelling for the brain or heart, he has little inspiration.
The investigation is fairly dreary, moving with very little momentum or excitement. The long breaks for the romance donâ€™t help, and neither do Fellersâ€™s multiple voiceover monologues that excessively holds the audience's hand through the story without actually involving anyone in the process. An additional hint of drama comes in the form of a rival officer, but the subplot comes out of nowhere and goes just as far.
During one early meeting with a Japanese government official, Fox declares, "I don't need a history lesson." Thanks to its lifeless and distracted storytelling, thatâ€™s unfortunately all "Emperor" can really provide.Â
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Matt Mueller
Published July 25, 2016
Comic-Con had a lot to reveal this past weekend, from Marvel and DC, to movies and television, "The Walking Dead" and Netflix's superhero shows, a new Blair Witch and some insanely vulgar food. Here's the important stuff to know.
Published July 24, 2016
Sequels are not why we love Pixar, why that name for many has become seemingly a genre of its own and a deeply trusted one at that. But, as "Finding Dory" proves, while sequels may not be what Pixar does best, they still do them better than most.
Published July 21, 2016
Boston and Styx may not be the first things that come to mind when you think of Italian culture and heritage. But what Bostyx lacks in Italian cred, they hope to make up for in rocking classic tunes at their Festa Italiana set this weekend.
Published July 20, 2016
2016 tragically claimed yet another entertainment giant Tuesday, as television and film writer-producer-director Garry Marshall passed away in Burbank, Calif., at the age of 81, from complications of pneumonia following a stroke.
Published July 19, 2016
Deadline Hollywood reported this morning that Netflix ordered another season of the now Emmy-nominated docu-series and that it is currently in production under the watch of returning executive producer/director tandem Laura Ricciardi and Moira Demos.
Published July 14, 2016
Before he comes to The Pabst Theater on Monday night, we chatted with legendary film director John Carpenter about his new tour, his new music, his newfound critical appreciation and the new "Halloween" movie he'll help bring to life.
Published July 12, 2016
"The Secret Life of Pets" sounds so much like it was cribbed from Pixar's notes, it's hard to believe Pixar didn't make it first - until you replace "pets" with "toys" and realize they did. Considering the fluffy 90-minute result, though, you likely won't mind.
Published July 11, 2016
Did you have a good weekend? Yes? Well, Milwaukeean and Adele fan Kathleen Dohearty's was better, as she got to join the crooning pop star on stage for a duet of "Someone Like You" last night in Chicago.
Published July 10, 2016
Upon first glance, there wouldn't seem to be much common ground between Saturday night's co-headliners Weezer and Panic! At the Disco. And after Saturday night ... yeah, there wasn't much. But that doesn't mean they didn't put on a heck of a show.
Published July 9, 2016
From country to rock to blues to ... a Nick Jonas/The Weeknd mash-up (?), Elle King's Summerfest set was full of zigging when you expected it to zag. Yet through it all, with King leading the charge, it all worked and totally made sense.