Critics Consensus

Despite a typically strong performance from Tommy Lee Jones, Emperor does little with its fascinating historical palate, and is instead bogged down in a cliched romantic subplot.



Total Count: 90


Audience Score

User Ratings: 7,406
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Movie Info

Matthew Fox (WORLD WAR Z, I, ALEX CROSS, "Lost") joins with Academy Award (R) winner Tommy Lee Jones (LINCOLN, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN, THE FUGITIVE, HOPE SPRINGS), newcomer Eriko Hatsune and award-winning Japanese star Toshiyuki Nishida (GET UP!, TSURIBAKA NISSHI 14, TSURIBAKA NISSHI 6, GAKKO, DUN-HUANG) to bring to life the American occupation of Japan in the perilous and unpredictable days just after Emperor Hirohito's World War II surrender. As General Douglas MacArthur (Jones) suddenly finds himself the de facto ruler of a foreign nation, he assigns an expert in Japanese culture - and psychological warfare - General Bonner Fellers (Fox), to covertly investigate the looming question hanging over the country: should the Japanese Emperor, worshiped by his people but accused of war crimes, be punished or saved? Caught between the high-wire political intrigue of his urgent mission and his own impassioned search for the mysterious school teacher (Hatsune) who first drew him to Japan, Fellers can be certain only that the tricky subterfuge about to play out will forever change the history of two nations and his heart. (c) Roadside Attractions


Matthew Fox
as General Bonner Fellers
Tommy Lee Jones
as General Douglas MacArthur
Eriko Hatsune
as Aya Shimada
Toshiyuki Nishida
as Uncle Kajima
Colin Moy
as Major General Richter
Takataro Kataoko
as Emperor Hirohito
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Critic Reviews for Emperor

All Critics (90) | Top Critics (30) | Fresh (29) | Rotten (61)

Audience Reviews for Emperor

  • Jun 18, 2014
    Emperor follows the events directly after the Second World War and the subsequent hunt and trials for war crimes during the war. The story is quite entertaining and well structured, but nearing the film's final, some aspects come apart a bit, and the film should have had a slightly better ending. I mean, the film has some very good performances, and it told a truly engrossing story. However, a part of me felt that the film could have been so much more as well. For me, Tommy Lee Jones as five star General Douglas MacArthur is well chosen for the part, and he makes the film worth seeing. I enjoyed the film, but like I said, near the end, it just kind of lingers on, as if they didn't know how to conclude it. Emperor really could have been a great movie, but it just doesn't become anything truly memorable. The cast are good here, and the story is quite good, but there are plenty of things to have been improved upon. Despite this, Emperor is not a bad film, and it's a bit underrated as well. Overall, with a good story and good performances, Emperor is one of those movies that is worth seeing if you enjoy a good war themed drama. But like I said, it could have been better, but for what we get, it's a good movie that never realizes its full potential. That's a shame because considering the subject matter; you'd expect a great film. This is good entertainment, but it does leave a bit to be desired, and it really should have something unique. To those expecting an elaborate drama, you'll be disappointed, as the film doesn't conclude in a way that is satisfactory. The film could have been terrific, but it doesn't go beyond good entertainment, instead of being an enthralling drama that it should have been.
    Alex r Super Reviewer
  • May 24, 2014
    Japan 1945: General Douglas MacArthur was given a mission to decide the fate of a nation, the guilt of a leader, and the true price of peace. Good Movie but boring Film! This movie provides a very good depiction of a historically significant event that is all but ignored in movies and text. Seamless transitions between history and entertainment, the cast of this movie (especially the Japanese ones) expertly capture the complexity of what is the Japanese culture and psyche during post WWII reconstruction. Tommy Lee Jones also does an amazing portrayal of MacArthur in copying his mannerisms and affect. This is a movie for people who appreciate historical context, attention to detail, and subtle references packaged with solid, proportioned acting. A story of love and understanding set amidst the tensions and uncertainties of the days immediately following the Japanese surrender at the end of World War II. On the staff of General Douglas MacArthur (Jones), the de facto ruler of Japan as Supreme Commander of the occupying forces, a leading Japanese expert, General Bonner Fellers (Fox) is charged with reaching a decision of historical importance: should Emperor Hirohito be tried and hanged as a war criminal? Interwoven is the story of Fellers' love affair with Aya, a Japanese exchange student he had met years previously in the U.S. Memories of Aya and his quest to find her in the ravaged post-war landscape help Fellers to discover both his wisdom and his humanity and enable him to come to the momentous decision that changed the course of history and the future of two nations.
    Manu G Super Reviewer
  • Oct 10, 2013
    The World War II film Emperor is a dramatic political thriller. In the aftermath of Japan's surrender Supreme Commander Gen. MacArthur appoints Gen. Bonner Fellers to lead the investigation that will determine if Emperor Hirohito should be charged with war crimes. Matthew Fox and Tommy Lee Jones lead the cast and give strong performances. The storytelling is also done very well, and does a good job at building intrigue and suspense. Additionally, the cinematography and set designs create a remarkably authentic looking early 20th century Japan. Inspired by an incredible true story, Emperor is a compelling historical drama.
    Dann M Super Reviewer
  • Sep 16, 2013
    Once again, Tommy Lee Jones is on the hunt for a criminal, except this time, rather than a doctor accused of murder, or a hitman hunting for missing money, he's taking on an emperor in the wake of war, and doing it all... without any actual chases, through dry conversations and with history telling us what ends up happening. So yeah, this film isn't quite as exciting as "The Fugitive" or "No Country For Old Men", and I don't know why I would even joke that it is, because even if this film was more action-packed, Harrison Ford and Javier Bardem raise quite the standard as far as exciting enemies are concerned, certainly more so than Tyler Perry. After "Alex Cross", I'd imagine plenty of people would be thrilled to see Matthew Fox in anything better, or at least that's what I figured until I saw the reception on this film. Well, Matt, my man, that's what you get for going the way of Ian Gillan and finding yourself a woman from Tokyo, because nothing gets to critics quite like clichéd romantic subplots in historical dramas (Yay, historical histrionics). This is kind of like "Pearl Harbor", only it's much less action-packed and, well, not as good, and if you think that's highly disconcerting, well, then you don't my opinion on "Pearl Harbor". Yeah, forget you guys, I like "Pearl Harbor", so don't go worrying that I dislike your little film here, Peter Webber, but, yeah, you can go ahead and be concerned about my not genuinely liking the film, either. Yeah, this is a very middling film, though it couldn't hit that mediocre middle ground if it didn't match its shortcomings with some undeniably strengths. This is a pretty minimalist WWII period drama, so production designer Grant Major doesn't have a whole lot to work with, but when he does, I suppose he does a pretty decent job of rebuilding the broken environment of post-WWII Japan enough to draw you into the setting, and such a technical success is, well, about the best thing that you can say about the aesthetic value of this film. Cinematography and score work are passable I suppose, but nothing special, with the only relatively upstanding attribute being Grant's production designs, which, even then, aren't exactly lavish, so this film doesn't even go that far on a technical or stylistic level, leaving compellingness in the hands of substance that is too misguided to have all that firm of a grip. However, substance is about as effective in bringing the film to the brink of decency as it is in driving the final product into mediocrity, because as thin and sloppily told as this story concept is, there is a reasonable bit of intrigue to it, and there are times where such intrigue is brought to life in a script by Vera Blasi and David Klass that is, of course, not that strong, but has little clever moments in dialogue, as well as the occasional highlight in characterization, which, of course, might have its highlights because of its being sold about as well as it can by the performances. It should come as no surprise that there is hardly anything for the performers to work with, but this cast is decent enough to endear about as much as anything, with Tommy Lee Jones stealing the show in his very Tommy Lee Jones, but nevertheless thoroughly charismatic portrayal of General Douglas MacArthur, while leading man Matthew Fox does just fine in his portrayal of a passionate military man who finds his professionalism tested by human flaws and tragedies. This film relies a lot on its performers, and they do an adequate job, something that certainly doesn't carry the final product too far, but far enough for you to catch glimpses of a more engaging film through highlights in engaging performances, whose compellingness isn't exactly hurt by a certain offscreen performance's having, at the very least, a degree of charm. Granted, charm in Peter Webber's directorial atmosphere is largely a product of the ambition that ultimately cripples the final product, but it still stands, almost as endearing, and certainly firmly enough for you to find it difficult to fully ignore the other strengths, limited though they may be. That brings this film to the brink of decency, and yet, in the long run, things more-or-less fall far, and what you end up with a film that isn't simply underwhelming, but mediocre, as it has so little understanding of how to handle its substance that it doesn't even put all that much effort into setting up the narrative that drives substance. This film is both a character drama and an investigative drama, and that's great and all, but this film makes the serious mistake of being too focused on its investigative aspects, - which actually thrive on the heart of the more human elements of the drama - plunging you into a conceptually intriguing story and expecting you to invest yourself in characters who are given the barest minimum of exposition, if even that, resulting in generally cold characterization that is made all the more distancing by familiarity within what depths there are to characterization. Sure, this is a true story we're dealing with here, so naturally, if you've done your research, you know what is to become of these characters and the story they drive, but even with all of that historical significance mumbo jumbo stripped away, this is a pretty formulaic film, especially when it comes to a clichéd romantic subplot that is not only ultimately superfluous, but handled histrionically. If there are big dramatic punches in this film, then they hit too blasted hard, being backed by melodrama that reflects an ambition within director Peter Webber that may be charming, but inspires questionable storytelling efforts that are kind of understandable, seeing as how a lot of work has to be done to punch some intrigue into this story. Sure, this film's subject matter is reasonably intriguing, but meat is really thinned out by a considerable minimalism that you can expect from a film whose central focus is a barely consequential and very sparse investigate drama that, on top of being limited in meat, is recalled by history. There's really not a whole lot to this film's story concept, and that holds back kick a lot, even without the aforementioned expository shortcomings and formulaic, maybe even histrionic dramatic storytelling, which you still have plenty of time to soak up, seeing as how this film takes too long to tell a thin, familiar and all around sloppily handled story concept, filling most of openings for needed exposition with filler and material excesses that range from simple draggery of the feet, to crowbarred plot elements, - such as the romantic subplot - but either way drag the narrative into blanding aimlessness, made all the more glaring by a questionable atmosphere. Thankfully, the film's atmosphere rarely, if ever dries up to the point of being terribly dull, but Webber still takes a very cold approach to things that is not justified by a compelling narrative, but instead thoroughly meditates on dramatic thinness and repetitious excessiveness in material, until engagement value falls flat under the weight of a dramatic kick that has only so many rises and falls. The film just drags along pretty blandly, with only so much expository depth and intrigue, until, after a while, the final product, regardless of its handful of commendable attributes, sputters out as distant and forgettably mediocre. Bottom line, convincing production value, as well as a reasonable bit of conceptual intrigue - flavored up by decent performances - and charm to ambition provide glimpses of a decent film, but through considerable underdevelopment, formulaic and often dramatically unsubtle storytelling, and a very blandly thin story concept, dragged into distancing aimlessness by dragging and atmospheric coldness, Peter Webber's "Emperor" meanders along until eventually collapsing from decency and into mediocrity. 2.25/5 - Mediocre
    Cameron J Super Reviewer

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