When you’re tasked with retelling an interesting part of history, a story that few are familiar with, it’s best to get out of the way. You don’t need to gussy it up if the history, itself, is interesting enough to warrant a movie. Such is the case with Emperor, a drama set in Japan weeks after their surrender to Allied forces in WWII. General Douglas MacArthur (a stodgy, scenery-chewing performance from Tommy Lee Jones) will rely upon the advice of one man (Matthew Fox) whether to try the Japanese emperor for war crimes for his possible involvement in the Pearl Harbor attack. The country is still recovering from the shock of nuclear bombs, its people could rebel against foreign occupiers, and the future of the country feels precariously on the brink. All of this makes for a good setting for a story, but Emperor doesn’t stick this out. It keeps falling back to a lame love story about Fox’s college days when he was smitten with a Japanese woman. So, now in Japan again, he desperately looks for her, having amber memories to times where he chased her around wooded areas (they must have done this a lot as a couple since it makes up the majority of his flashbacks). You keep thinking, isn’t there a bigger story at work here than one guy’s failed college romance? The rest of the movie is treated so cursory, with stiff-lip TV procedural attention, so that the details are all we get and the people get lost. Ultimately, Emperor is a movie that crushes us with the wrong history, misses out developing all the meaty stuff, and thinks what we truly want is Fox chasing after his lost love. It’s a shame the movie is so boring while the history is not.
Nate’s Grade: C