In 1945, General Douglas MacArthur (Tomy Lee Jones) was given the task of investigating whether the Japanese Emperor, a man worshiped as a God by his people, should be tried for war crimes.
It’s an intriguing slice of history, and one that many should find captivating, but evidently the filmmakers didn’t think that the investigation was enough. Running parallel with the attempts to discover the Emperor’s guilt or innocence is another story, one of a lost love.
Matthew Fox plays General Bonner Fellers, an expert on the Japanese culture and the man who MacArthur assigned the task of heading the investigation. Fellers is given ten days to complete the mission, and he does, but during those ten days the film tells us he also investigated the whereabouts of a Japanese schoolteacher with whom he had once had a love affair. By all accounts, Fellers is still very much in love with the woman, even though it’s been five years since he last saw her, and his attempts to find her are made all the more frustrating by the fact that he has an immeasurably important military task on his hands.
The problem with the secondary story is that it’s not true. General Fellers was a real person and he did work alongside MacArthur investigating the role that Emperor Hirohito had in the Second World War, but in real life, Fellers was actually married during these events and – so I was recently told – both he and his wife are buried next to each other at the Arlington National Ceremony.
One has to wonder why the studio never had the faith to tell the story of the Emperor without the fabricated account. As Fellers stumbles around the ruins of Tokyo, surely there was more than enough material in the investigation to keep an audience glued without watering down these events by interrupting it with what at times actually seems like a different film.
When concentrating on the investigation and showing us insights into the Japanese culture and mindset, the film is nothing short of fascinating. “If you understand devotion,” Fellers says, “Then you’ll understand Japan.” When MacArthur is about to have his famous meeting with the Emperor, he states, “I’ve never met an Emperor before, much less a God.”
It’s not that the fictional search for a lost love in war torn Japan is uninteresting – had it been the center piece of its own film it might have worked fine in a Nicholas Sparks kind of way – but when it runs alongside a story of such historical and weighty importance as the culpability of a man worshiped by his people, it succeeds only in bogging down what could have been something great.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 98 Minutes Overall Rating: 6 (out of 10)