Thursday, April 11, 2013

Emperor (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


The much awaited film  "Emperor" rumbles in with all the fanfare and swelling music of an historical epic, but makes for  some oddly hollow artillery.

The iconic and usually dependable Tommy Lee Jones stars as General MacArthur and the fault is not with his acting but rather that he is miscast. He seems like a caricature of a war general, a bit too flippant and most like you would expect the actor Tommy Lee Jones to perform---gruff and sour-- and not at all like the lofty MacArthur that many recall. Jones' role is rather staid without verve. That being said, his imposing repertoire tends to shield him like a cloak and it remains difficult to criticize such a performer. 

Matthew Fox (Lost, Alex Cross) co-stars as General Bonner Fellers. For his part he is dreamy eyed and earnest, a bit like a superhero. He is empathetic, direct and often wistful with nostalgia. Fellers is in charge with investigating the enigmatic Hirohito. What follows is a procedural drama with Fellers trying in vain to get at the essence of what kind of man and warrior Hirohito is behind the palace partitions.

There is the impassive and impenetrable Tojo (Shôhei Hino) who is entrancing in his solitude. He reflects only silence and gives up only one name in regard to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Fellers finds his way to the emperor's  closest advisor Koichi  Kido played with some much needed  mystery by  Masatô Ibu. Kido merely offers a tanka in explanation of Hirohito's motivation. 

Events are further complicated by Fellers' memories for his paramour Aya, (Eriko Hatsune) a young Japanese student. Fellers has not seen Aya since the war, their innocent love (no surprise) torn apart. If Fellers can exonerate Hirohito of warcrimes then perhaps his love for Aya can be restored.

This could fold into some compelling thoughtful material: The forthright but sensitive Fellers driven to discover the poetic forces behind the Japanese code of loyalty and the clash of two cultures.  

But we don't get much of a taste of this. There are a few standard phrases about devotion  and how the Japanese people think differently from Americans, but there is nothing specific here.

The narrative plods along slower than a Sherman tank and most of the scenes duly turn with the formality of a school  textbook, without much surprise or revelation. There is little vermilion juice to Aya, we never really get to know what kind of person she is, albeit known as outspoken. But there is little evidence of that in her invention. 

When  MacArthur is about to meet Hirohito it is almost a De Palmaesque moment: We see the emperor's shoes, his legs, his hands...all is revealed but his face. Then he turns: a shy and nervous man. 

"This is nothing about punishment. I need your help." The general states. It is the film's strongest seconds.

With the action of a picture taken, followed by a black and ashen Japan, there is a sense of emptiness and wanting more. 

In "Emperor" there are only the shadows of men engaged in the pose of  understanding and intrigue despite some red drizzles of suspense.

Write Ian at

No comments: