With TIFF 2013 at our doorstep it feels only appropriate that films from TIFF 2012 are hitting store shelves everywhere on DVD and Blu-Ray and only a click away via most major platforms. "Emperor" is a tightly wound drama that takes place in the aftermath of World War II as the United States sets off to rebuild the country that they were at war with not all that long ago.
In "Emperor" as General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) and the Allied Forces begin the task of rebuilding the nation of Japan, Gen. Fellers (Matthew Fox) is tasked with deciding if Emperor Hirohito will be hanged as a war criminal. Influencing his ruling is his quest to find Aya (Eriko Hatsune), an exchange student he met years earlier in the U.S.
One of the more quiet and understated films about World War II, it wasn't a film about the pomp and circumstance of war but more a story about finding away to move on in the face of tragic events be they on a large or small scale. As director Peter Webber was working from the source material of the book by Shiro Okamoto we get a genuinely interesting little thriller despite the fact that we already know the ending. Webber keeps the mystery flowing at a healthy speed as both the task at hand and his personal story unfold side by side in the narrative and the themes of love and loyalty come through as clear as day. As a story teller he dives deep into the political inner workings of Japanese politics and protocol on a governmental level but on an interpersonal level as well since it is all interwoven and connected on so many levels that the social and the personal emotional aspects of the story will never been separated simply because that is how the society works. The power of this story and this film, lies in what wasn't said and is delivered with aplomb thanks to some excellent performances.
Matthew Fox as General Fellers played the role with such careful and deliberate nuance not leaning on one aspect of the story or playing any given moment up for dramatics, he remains impartial yet partial all at the same time as he tries to find the reasons that Japan went to war while simultaneously trying the find the woman that he loves. He is a man torn in two, but it plays it all through a simply expression and look at the camera as he emotions bubbled just underneath his characters military exterior. It's quite possible that Tommy Lee Jones was born to play General Douglas MacArthur yet his does so with a remarkable restraint resisting the urge to play the role for any pompous camp but as a man in the middle of a quagmire trying to hold an entire nation together and he does it quite well. The ensemble was solid all around but it was truly a film about the struggles these lead characters faced and it worked very well.
Ultimately, "Emperor" is a surprisingly quiet kind of film, but it is a film that maintains a unique level of dignity to itself as it unfolds the story that it has for its audience. Much like a culture of a different nation, this film has a lot to offer any audience on the sole condition that they are willing to accept it.
3 out of 5 stars.
The DVD release has no special features.