Director: Peter Webber
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Film Pulse Score: 4/10
The dreaded tagline “Inspired by a true story.” What exactly does that mean? If it’s a true story why not simply say “Based on a true story.” Well that would be false advertising. Quite simply it means only some of what you are about to see actually occurred but the rest is pure Hollywood hokum. Peter Webber’s latest film Emperor may be inspired by a true story but there is nothing inspiring on display here.
The film opens after the surrender of Japan and the conclusion of World War II. General Douglas McArthur, phoned in by Tommy Lee Jones, assigns Brigadier General Bonner Fellers, a miscast Matthew Fox, the unenviable task of investigating Emperor Hirohito for war crimes. He wants to know if he was complicit in the attack on Pearl Harbor and if so what action should be taken the United States government. This looks like it could be a really good drama surrounding the investigation. However you’d be mistaken if you were to think that’s all this film would be about.
The film was adapted from the novel His Majesty’s Salvation by Shiro Okamoto. The screenplay was written by Vera Blasi and David Klass. It is unclear if the source material was to blame but the decision to divide the film into two storylines was misguided. This film may have been better if it just focused on the events it self. Instead we are also given Fellers’ back story about his romance with a Japanese woman. The back story is pretty clichéd, cheesy and unengaging. The film really drags during these scenes. Now the scenes that surround the investigation really lack any sense of urgency or weight. Again, perhaps this stems from the way it was written.
Performance wise the only good actor in here was Takataro Kataoka who played Hirohito. Tommy Lee Jones’ MacArthur really comes off as a caricature. You really don’t get a sense of the man, all you see is Tommy Lee. In his performance as Thaddeus Stevens, you still see the actor but at least get a sense of the man. You don’t get that here. Matthew Fox is simply miscast. While he may be close in age to Bonner he looked too young. In one scene after another it is difficult to buy him in the role. With the exception of Kataoka, all the other Japanese actors appeared to be playing to type. Kataoka reminded of the young emperor in The Last Samurai.
Instead of a decent historical drama that looks into a part of history we seldom hear about we are given a melodrama that is neither memorable nor interesting. Historical figures that are interesting on paper, probably were in real life too, are flat and underplayed. An “inspired by” story that was clearly inspired by countless other World War II based romances about the American in love with a Japanese woman. In fact, the only truth may be in the post-scripts that close the film. Perhaps that was the only truly inspiring thing.