A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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.
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 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?
- In theaters: March 8, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: August 13, 2013
- Cast: Eriko Hatsune, Matthew Fox, Tommy Lee Jones
- Director: Peter Webber
- Studios: Lionsgate, Roadside Attractions
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: History
- Run time: 98 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: violent content, brief strong language and smoking (historical)
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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