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Movie review: ‘Emperor’ a boring history lesson

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American Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox, left) romances a Japanese teacher, Aya (Eriko Hatsune), before World War II in the historical drama "Emperor." Courtesy Kirsty Griffin | Roadside Attractions

By Sean P. Means

The Salt Lake Tribune

First published Mar 07 2013 02:32PM
Updated Mar 8, 2013 05:40PM

If you think movies based on historical events should be less tedious than a lecture about the same events, "Emperor" is not for you.

The movie opens a little-known chapter of World War II, right after the Japanese surrender, when Gen. Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) must decide whether to prosecute Emperor Hirohito for war crimes. Such a move would rile the Japanese populace, who consider the emperor a living god. MacArthur assigns Brig. Gen. Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox) to investigate whether the emperor was involved in the decision to attack Pearl Harbor or whether he was merely a figurehead at the mercy of Prime Minister Tojo and other militarists.

Fellers, an expert on Japan, must navigate imperial bureaucracy, U.S. Army suspicion and cultural differences in his investigation. Meanwhile, Fellers also searches war-torn Tokyo to locate Aya (Eriko Hatsune), a Japanese schoolteacher he loved in college.

Director Peter Webber ("The Girl With the Pearl Earring") stages dull scenes of Fellers sitting across tables with various Japanese officials — intercut with soft-focus flashbacks of Fellers and Aya’s pre-war romance. Webber also fails to get much out of the charisma-challenged Fox or handle Jones’ phoned-in MacArthur.

movies@sltrib.com; www.sltrib.com/entertainment

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