Emperor

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Emperor Movie Poster Image
MacArthur meets Hirohito in interesting historical drama.
  • PG-13
  • 2013
  • 98 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

A man faces a complex decision. In spite of great pressure -- and after a great deal of mental struggle -- he eventually chooses compassion over revenge. And he manages to pass this compassion on to others.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The main character shows strong empathy and tolerance toward another culture, though his own personal behavior is sometimes rude and pushy.

Violence

Emperor takes place in Tokyo after WWII. Viewers see destroyed buildings and homeless victims, and there's much talk about how many people died in bombings. Many guns are shown, but they're rarely fired. A dead body is seen just after suicide; a pool of blood is shown. Another character commits suicide with a gun behind an opaque window; blood splatters on the window. The main character gets into a bar fight, and his face is bloodied. Children throw rocks at the main character, giving him a small cut on his forehead.

Sex

The main character has a romantic relationship that includes lots of kissing, but nothing more sexual than that is shown or suggested. There's a brief scene of a "wild" college dance, with students kissing in the background.

Language

Language is fairly infrequent, and only General MacArthur uses it. He says "f--king" once and uses "son of a bitch," "s--t," "balls," "hell," "piss," "damn," and "goddamn" at least once each.

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Fellers drinks beer and gets drunk in a bar and later drinks whisky and gets drunk in his office. There are no apparent after affects. He smokes cigarettes throughout (accurate for the era). Many minor characters are also seen drinking and smoking in the background.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Emperor is a historical drama about American generals attempting to establish order in post-WWII Japan, as well as deciding whether or not to arrest and try Emperor Hirohito for war crimes. The filmmakers have padded the story with a fictional romance (which includes some kissing), but the movie could inspire students and families to do further research. Violence isn't especially frequent/graphic, but there are a couple of suicides (with blood), fighting, and images of a bombed-out Japan after the war. There's also some language, mostly coming from General MacArthur, including one use of "f--k." Characters smoke cigarettes (and one smokes a corncob pipe) throughout, which is accurate for the era the movie takes place in. The main character drinks beer, sake, and whisky and sometimes gets drunk, with no apparent repercussions.

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What's the story?

In 1945, General Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) arrives in Tokyo to oversee Japan's surrender and help restore order to the country. He charges General Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) to round up and arrest any members of the Japanese government or military who were involved with starting the war. But more importantly, Feller must determine whether Emperor Hirohito (Takataro Kataoka) himself was directly involved. The U.S. government would like Hirohito as a prize, but his arrest could cause the country to fall into chaos. Moreover, Fellers has a conflict of interest, given that he once loved a Japanese girl, Aya (Eriko Hatsune), and now hopes to find her again.

Is it any good?

Arguably, EMPEROR misses a chance to dig deeper into some flawed characters and a volatile situation. It also takes questionable liberties by inventing an interracial love story for the main character. And, certainly, it would have been fun to see more of Jones' snappy supporting performance as MacArthur. Overall, the movie could have taken a cue from the similarly structured but much richer Lincoln.

Yet, as with his earlier Girl with a Pearl Earring, director Peter Webber takes a simple, classical approach that makes Emperor feel as if it could have been a movie from the period in which it takes place. The clean, uncluttered camera setups seem to influence the overall tone of the storytelling, editing, and performances, and the interesting details are easy to follow. For the most part, Webber's greatest moments of drama come from small things, such as tense meetings in rooms, and especially the final arrival of Hirohito himself.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Emperor's violence. What parts were the most upsetting/disturbing? Why do you think so many of the Japanese characters commit or threaten suicide?

  • Why does Fellers drink and smoke so much? Is it related to the high stress of his job? Did people know in 1945 what they know now about cigarettes?

  • Why did Fellers choose not to arrest Hirohito? Did he make the right decision?

  • Why would the filmmakers add a romantic subplot to this story? What happens when fact and fiction are mixed?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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