Movies based on the events of World War II make up what could be argued to be the single largest genre in the history of movie making. They have been churned out since the days of the war, many of them filled with some truth and an equal mixture of fiction. While there is some fiction added to the stories, there is also enough fact to justify them being made. The world needs to remember what happened during that horrific conflict. And Lionsgate’s new WWII based drama, Emperor is one more welcome addition to that long line despite its overlying romance story line. If viewers can allow themselves to get past that and the story’s slow start, they will find that it is a surprisingly interesting work.
Emperor is a surprisingly interesting film first and foremost for the fact that it isn’t just another of the standard flash-bang-boom movies that have become all too commonplace in the current era of moviemaking. Rather, it takes place in the days following Japan’s surrender to the Allied Forces in WWII. Some might ask why this is so important. It’s important because being that it isn’t one of those films. It is forced to rely on story rather than on sex and violence. It really forces viewers to stop and pay attention to everything going on throughout the story. It’s just a nice change of pace for those that are truly interested in the history of World War II.
The fact that Emperor isn’t just another flash-bang-boom action based WWII movie is probably a big reason that it perhaps didn’t achieve the success in theaters of other WWII centered movies. So be it. Those that have a true appreciation for history will overlook that and look toward another of the movie’s positives. That secondary positive is the movie’s casting. Despite the inclusion of mega-star Tommy Lee Jones as General Douglas MacArthur, Jones is not the star. Rather, he turns out to play more of a supporting role as General Douglas McArthur. This is made even more interesting in watching the movie with bonus commentary. Audiences will learn from director Peter Webber that apparently Jones didn’t immediately jump at the chance to play McArthur. Rather, it took months of phone calls to get him to sign on to the films. This is made even more believable in the bonus “Making of” featurette when Jones himself jokingly notes that he knew he looked nothing like McArthur. So he beat the critics to the punch on that. All of this aside, he still turned out to be the perfect fit for the role, especially considering his resume.
Jones was convincing as General McArthur, even being a supporting role. Just as convincing was the movie’s real star, Matthew Fox. Fox fills the role of General Bonner Fellers. Getting back to the bonus commentary for a moment, audiences will laugh as Webber compares Fox to a Gary Cooper style actor in his role as Fellers. Fellers is sent on a mission to find out if Japan’s Emperor did in fact order the attack on Pearl Harbor after Japan’s official surrender to the Allies. His story starts rather slowly thanks to the time shifts that set up the movie’s underlying romantic subplot. But thankfully, it does manage to catch itself somewhere along the line and speed up. The underlying romantic drama plays a certain role in Fellers search for the truth of what happened on the day Pearl Harbor was attacked. But again thankfully, writers Vera Blasi, David Klass, and Shiro Okamato on whose book His Majesty’s Salvation this story is based, don’t allow that aspect of the story to overpower the primary story. Because of that balance, Fox actually becomes quite believable in his role.
Fox’s acting and the ability of the story’s writers to balance its serious war based drama with its underlying romantic subplot are both positive aspects of this story. The story’s historical accuracy is just as important as anything in this story. It has already been noted that throughout the history of WWII based movies, many of them have been very liberal with fictitious elements just as much as with factual elements. This story includes a certain fictitious element in the inclusion of Fellers’ romance with Aya Shimada. It’s even noted in the movie’s bonus “Making of” featurette that it’s not known if the pair actually had a romance. That kept in mind, it makes it even better that their romantic drama didn’t overpower the primary story of this movie. The potentially fictitious element noted, Emperor also boasts quite an amount of factual elements. The most important of those elements is the note of America’s oil embargo on Japan. Many people may not know this, but it was in fact an oil embargo on Japan that led to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It made the war in the Pacific a completely different war than the one fought in Europe. In direct correlation, the flashback segments help to make the story even more believable. That’s because of Aya’s mention that not every Japanese citizen was in favor of Japan attacking the United States. Because of the way history has been taught, this is something else that is not largely known. The story presented in Emperor contains much more that history buffs will appreciate. And they will find those elements for themselves when they rent this movie or buy it for themselves. The movie is available now in stores and online. More information on this and other releases from Lionsgate is available online at http://www.lionsgate.com and http://www.facebook.com/lionsgate. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.