Ashvegas movie review: Emperor

Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

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Emperor (Lionsgate)

Grumpy old men never die; they just fade away.

In Lincoln, Tommy Lee Jones’ Thaddeus Stevens spoke the words of Tony Kushner, a Pulitzer-winning playwright with one of the greatest knacks for language in performance art.  As General Douglas MacArthur in Emperor, Jones’ lines are courtesy of Vera Blasi and David Klass, whose greatest credit between them is probably Klass’ adaptation of Kiss The Girls.  Unable to match the actor’s latest oversized historical figure, this decrease in verbal quality reveals itself early in Peter Webber’s film and plagues nearly its entire cast.  A showcase for Matthew Fox, who again proves inadequate outside of television, the period drama looks stunning but provides little of note to fill its sumptuous frames.


“And this one is too soft…”

Charged with the restoration of Japan in the aftermath of WWII, MacArthur’s first order of business is to arrest its government’s leaders and have them stand trial for war crimes.  The biggest fish of all is Emperor Hirohito (Takataro Kataoka), and in determining whether or not he ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor, MacArthur taps General Bonner Fellers (Fox).  A so-called Japanese expert, Fellers is given ten days to complete his difficult task, during which he scours a bomb-scarred Tokyo meticulously recreated by the film’s talented technical crew.  While the shots of his investigation are crisp and the investigation is saturated with unknowns, the story’s disjointed execution undermines nearly all allure and consistently gums up the works.

Emperor-Movie (5)

“That’s funny. I’m taking Oceanic 815, too.”

Early on, wooden deliveries of unremarkable dialogue set an amateur tone.  The formality of Emperor’s military setting may warrant some degree of uncommon speech, but the stilted style persists in casual situations.  Noticeably straining to squeeze the most out of the subpar material, Jones still comes off like a community theater version of the Supreme Commander.  As the film’s overwhelmed lead, Fox’s stiffness rivals the absurdity of his villain from Alex Cross while the face of Colin Moy’s General Richter is so unnaturally still that he may actually be a mannequin with vocals piped in.  By sharp contrast, the Japanese cast members fare far better than the native speakers.  With the exception of Fellers’ driver Takahashi (Masayoshi Haneda), these players bring a welcome professionalism to an otherwise choppy flow and are missed when Feller & Co. regain control.


“Take back what you said about Tyler Perry, or else!”

Likewise coming up short is the flimsy love story between Fellers and Aya (Eriko Hatsune), his college girlfriend with whom he reconnected in Japan shortly before the war.  With the pair’s relationship lovelessly told through flashbacks that also conveniently inform Fellers’ investigation, the filmmakers leave much to the imagination and make it tough to care about his side quest to find her.  Though the mystery of Aya’s present safety lacks punch, the Japanese leaders’ shrouded loyalty to the Emperor provides the film’s lone successful arc.  The aforementioned turns by the native actors are key to this victory, yet are unsurprisingly too often displaced by the vanilla romance.

Struggling to unite these story lines without much sign of effort, Emperor is rarely more than a picturesque historical hack job.  Lazily written and with poor performances by its American cast, this MacArthur film is unlikely to inspire anything beyond a nap.

Grade: C-

Rated PG-13 for violent content, brief strong language and smoking (historical).  [Apparently, the distinction is important.]

Emperor is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.


Jason Sandford

Jason Sandford is a reporter, writer, blogger and photographer interested in all things Asheville.

  • 1

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