Emperor (2012)




Director:     Peter Webber.

Starring:     Matthew Fox (General Bonner Fellers), Tommy Lee Jones (General Douglas MacArthur), Eriko Hatsune (Aya Shimada), Toshiyuki Nishida (General Kajima), Masayoshi Haneda (Takahashi), Kaori Momoi (Mitsuko Kajima), Colin Moy (General Richter), Masatoshi Nakamura (Prince Konoe), Masat Ibu (Koichi Kido), Isao Natsuyagi (Teizaburo Sekiya), Takatar Kataoka (Emperor Hirohito), Aaron Jackson (Lt Col. Rogers), Nic Sampson (Lieutenant Red), Shhei Hino (Hideki Tojo), William Wallace (CIC Commander).

MacArthur is put in control of post-WWII Japan; asks for a report about whether or not Emperor Hirohito was a war criminal.



Spoiler Warning:  6th August 1945.  North Field, Tinian.  Mariana Islands.  The plane with the atom bomb takes off for Hiroshima.  Hiroshima is virtually totally bombed out.  General Bonner Fellers says:   "Japan has surrendered, brought to its knees by the most terrible weapon ever devised, the atomic bomb.  The country is a smoking ruin.  Despite this, their ruler, Emperor Hiroshito, is still worshipped by his people as a living god.  We have placed this Sacred Sacred Son of Heaven on the protected list until we decide what to do with him." 

30 August 1945.  On a flight 50 miles from Tokyo.  Fellers says:  "I fear that the Japan that I fell in love with will be scarred beyond recognition.  I'm seeing aerial reconnaissance photos, but they only tell part of the story."

MacArthur calls Fellers to come up to the front of the plane to see him.  The General tells Fellers that there will be 2,000 enemy troops lining the road that they will have to drive on, while they only have 100 men.  Fellers assures MacArthur that there is nothing to worry about.  The troops will not fire on them. The Emperor has their loyalty. 

The plane lands.  MacArthur tells everyone on the plane that no one is going to be carrying any weapons.  "If they don't know they're licked by now, they will get the picture today."

The city of Tokyo is a bombed-out mess. 

United States Military High Command, Dai Ichi Building, Tokyo.  Fellers says:  "Our headquarters is just across from the Imperial Palace in one of the few buildings our B-29s missed.  The palace is strictly off limits to our forces.  General MacArthur has ordered me to arrest and bring to justice 30 of the Class A war criminals who are close to Emperor Hirohito."

Feller hits the ground running and says they will pick up first the former Prime Minister Tojo at 11 pm.  They move out.

At the building where many arrests are to me made, a man named Takahashi tells Gen. Fellers that he will be his driver and interpreter.  Fellers gives him a photo of his Japanese girlfriend and asks Takahashi to find her for him. 

One of the suspected war criminals, Tojo, shoots himself, but not in the heart. 

Richter tells MacArthur that 26 of the top 29 accused were successfully detained.  The others took their own lives.  Tojo attempted suicide, but they got there in time to save him.  Mac says:  "Do not let that son of a bitch die before we get a chance to hang him."   He adds that the President has taken the Emperor off the protected list.  The Justice Department has given Mac ten days to conduct an investigation into the Emperor's role in the war."

Mac wants to assign Fellers to the investigation.  He asks Fellers when was he last in Japan.  Five years ago.  MacArthur is afraid that if he arrests the Emperor, there will be a revolt in Japan.  He then tells Fellers that he will be the one conducting the investigation.  He wants Fellers to make a decision about what should be done with the Emperor and commit it to paper for MacArthur's consideration and approval. 

Takahashi tells Fellers that he will give him a ride home.  Fellers says he's going to walk it, but Takahashi warns him that it's not safe.  Fellers is determined to walk it anyway.  

Fellers walks alone among the Japanese.  He says the country is near starving and teetering on the edge of total collapse. 

He walks through the streets and goes into a Japanese bar.  He gets some liquor and some noodles.  

Flashback.  Felllers thinks back to Douglaston College, USA in 1932.  He picks up some papers that a college coed drops.  She is from Japan but is studying at the American college.  Feller later asks her to attend a college dance with him.  The girl is intimidated by the Lindy dance the students are doing, so Feller suggests they go somewhere else.  They decide to dance on the lawn under a large tree.  Fellers asks her why has she come such a long way to study at an American college?  She says that she is too outspoken for a Japanese girl. 

Back to the present.  Takahashi reports in that the girl's last known address was destroyed in a bombing raid.  Fellers tells Takahashi to check at a school near Shizuoka where she did some substitution teaching.  He can also contact her uncle, General Kajima. 

Fellers tells his men they are now investigating the Emperor.  They will divide his closest staffs into three groups:  military, imperial and politicians.  Fellers doesn't think he will get a lot of cooperation from the Japanese staff people. 

In all, they come up with 32 names.  The one that Fellers really wants to question is Tojo, who was the man who ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Currently, Tojo is being held in Sugamo Prison.  Fellers confronts Tojo saying:  "You are going to hang, Mr. Prime Minister.  Do you want the Emperor to have the same fate?"  He asks Tojo for three names.  Tojo gives him one name:  Fumimaro Konoe. 

Fellers tells his staff that Fumimaro Kone was replaced as Prime Minister right before the war started. 

Fellers has to listen to Fumimaro Kone as he condemns the sins of the western powers in the age of Imperialism.  They say the best defense is a good offense.  Fellers tells the man that he doesn't need a history lesson.  Fumimaro says he can't give Fellers what he wants.  So Fellers asks him who can give him what he wants?  Kido. 

Koichi Kido was the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal and one of the Emperor's closest advisers.  Fellers arranges to meet with the man.

Flashback.  Fellers says he has come to pick up Aya.  The house mother says that Aya went back to Japan this morning.  And she did not even leave a note. 

Back to the present.  Kido does not show up.  Fellers is angry, but Kido was afraid of being arrested. 

MacArthur insists that Fellers gets to Kido. 

Fellers tells his assistants that they now must focus on the stepping-stone meeting that led Japan to war.  They need to know the key players and their relationship with the Emperor.

Fellers goes out walking by himself again into Tokyo. 

Flashback.  Tokyo 1940.  Fellers in in Japan on an assignment.  He appears unexpectedly before Aya, who doesn't seem too pleased.  In fact, she tells him to please go away.  She goes into a school and starts teaching her students English. 

Fellers hangs around outside the school.  The principal tells Aya that she is going to call the police if Aya doesn't do something about the man hanging around the outside of the school.  Aya goes out to tell Fellers that they are going to call the police on him.  He asks to walk with her for awhile.  She uses the time to say that when her father became ill, she came back to Japan. Now her father has passed away. 

Back to the present.  Richter has been keeping a very critical eye on Fellers and his work.  Fellers won't tell the man anything.  Richter follows Fellers outside to tell him that MacArthur is playing Fellers like a fiddle.  The General believes in glory for himself and won't mind using Fellers to get it.  He wants to save Hirohito, but wants to claim that the idea came from Fellers.  After all, MacArthur wants to be the next President of the United States. 

Takahashi tells Fellers that the school at Shizuoka where Aya was teaching was bombed nine months ago.   

Flashback.  Fellers surprises Aya walking on the street.  They walk along talking when some Japanese school boys start throwing rocks at Fellers.  One rock hits him in the face. Aya takes him to her apartment.  She says the army is teaching the kids to hate foreigners.  She hates what that's doing to the Japanese people.  And now her school is so small because they have been preventing many students from even studying English.  They kiss. 

Back to the present.  Fellers goes out to the site of the Shizuoka school.  It's in ruins.  Fellers fights back his tears.  He says he wants a list of those who survived.  Takahashi tells him he can get him a list of the dead. 

Flashback.  Fellers is writing a paper on the topic of the psychology of the Japanese.  Aya tells Fellers that her uncle is a general and he will be able to help Fellers. 

Aya and Fellers go to the train station to go to her uncle's place.  There are a lot of Japanese soldiers there.  Aya warns him not to make eye contact with them.  They both get on the train. 

Uncle tells Fellers that he has a lot to learn about the Japanese culture.  Fellers asks what is the effect of the Emperor in the lives of the Japanese soldiers?  Uncle says the Japanese soldiers is superior to his American counterpart because of the intense loyalty of the Japanese soldier to his Emperor. Uncle is convinced that if they fight the USA, the Japanese will win because of their superior sense of duty. 

Back to the present.  The name of Vice Minister Sekiya comes up.  The problem is that the man's office is in the Palace.  So MacArthur gives him a letter from him to the Japanese guards saying to allow General Fellers inside to meet with Vice Minister Sekiya.  And Fellers can take a small contingent of men with him for his own protection. 

Takahashi warns Fellers that such a meeting has to be arranged officially.  Fellers replies:  "I'm going to arrange it right now." 

The main guard telephones a superior and Fellers is allowed to come in to meet with Sekiya, but he has to come in unarmed.   Fellers directly asks Sekiya if the Emperor ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor?  Sekiya is of no help. 

Fellers goes back to the Japanese bar he frequents on occasion.  Three Japanese customers start talking bad about the American.  One throws something at Fellers.  Foolishly, Fellers confronts the three.  He turns over their table and starts slugging the customers.  Fellers gets a good beating. 

Flashback.  Aya helps Fellers write his report.  He also gets help from uncle who tells him:  "Japan runs on the ancient warrior code of loyalty and obedience."

Back to the present.  Fellers writes that he can find no evidence exonerating the Emperor.  His arrest may cause significant unrest, but it is necessary. 

Takahashi comes in with news that Kido wants to talk to Fellers.  In fact, Kido is here.  He's coming up right now.  Richter watches the man get out of his car.  He grabs a file on Aya and rushes in to tell MacArthur about the relationship between Aya and Fellers.  Summing it up about Fellers:  "He's a Jap lover."  He goes on to say that Fellers put in an order not to bomb Shizuoka.  MacArthur seems irritated by all this, but assures Richter that he will be rewarded for his important work, 

Kido tells Fellers that the cabinet was divided three to three on whether Japan should surrender.  The Emperor said that he wanted all his ministers to support his decision to surrender.  The Emperor then recorded his announcement of surrender to the Japanese people on a record, which was then hidden.  This information was leaked to the army and the army revolted.  A thousand army troops attacked the Palace and destroyed many items there in search of the record.  Kido says he believes the troops would have killed him if they found him, but they didn't.  They also could not find the Emperor.  Kido is certain that the troops would have killed the Emperor.  At 8 am, General Tanaka arrived to put down the revolt.  Many of the rebel officers killed themselves.  General Tanaka then shot himself.  The recording was played to all the Japanese people explaining that Japan has accepted the Allies' terms. 

Fellers says he needs proof of Kido's assertions.  There is none, says Kido, but it's true that the Emperor stood up to the militarists.  It was he who ended the war. 

Fellers goes out for a long drive in the jeep. 

Flashback.  Uncle awakens Fellers and tells him firmly that he must go.  The police are starting to round up Americans for the two nations will soon be at war.  Fellers, however, wants to see Aya again before he leaves.  He yells for Aya, who can see him from the house.  She starts to cry and goes farther inside the house.  Aya runs after the car but can't reach it as it takes Fellers away. 

Back to the present.  Fellers comes to visit with uncle, who says he led Japanese troops in the battles for Saipan and Okinawa.  He gives Fellers a box of letters written by Aya to him personally.  In the last letter to him, written by her during a bombing raid, she says that her heart is his and signs the letter, Love, Aya.  The box is filled with letters.  Uncle says:  "She died with honor."

Fellers writes that with the Emperor's order, seven million Japanese soldiers laid down their arms.  His precise actions during the war are unknowable, but his decisive role in the ending of the war is beyond dispute. 

Weapons Decommissioning Sector, Tokyo Bay.  MacArthur criticizes the report saying Fellers has no real evidence.  The report is really just Feller's opinion.  He now tells Fellers to set up a meeting between Hirohito and MacArthur.  Fellers says it's too late, but MacArthur insists that Fellers set up the appointment. 

The first answer is no.  Takahashi recommends that Fellers invite the Emperor to MacArthur's home in Japan.  Fellers says that the meeting will just be a social call. 

Sakiya comes to tell MacArthur the do's and don'ts as regards his reception of His Majesty.

Before the arrival of the Emperor, Fellers admits to MacArthur that he did divert bombing raids away from certain areas to protect someone.   MacArthur says Richter already informed him of this, but as far as he is concerned, Richter can go piss up a rope. 

The two Caesars meet.  MacArthur holds out his hand and the Emperor shakes it (which is against the rules).  MacArthur now sends everyone out of the room (which is against the rules).   

The Emperor says he wants to take full responsibility for the war.  He wants the punishment to fall on himself and not on Japan.  MacArthur thanks the Emperor, but adds:  "This has nothing to do with punishment, Your Majesty.  I need your help.  So let's see what we can do to get Japan back on its feet."  Fellers was listening at the door and he is so relieved to hear those gracious words from MacArthur.

Flashback.  Fellers remembers Aya and him laying out in a bamboo forest. 

Back to the present.  Fellers and Takahashi go out for a drink together. 

"Sentenced to death by the International War Crimes Tribunal, Hideki Tojo was hanged on 23rd December 1948.

"Suspected of war crimes, Fumimaro Konoe took poison and died on 16th December 1943. 

"Koichi Kido was charged as a 'Class A' war criminal.  Escaping death by one vote, he was sentenced to life in prison and died in 1977.

"Teizaburo Sekiya was never charged with any crime.  He lived peacefully into old age.

"General Bonner Fellers was awarded the Second Order of the Sacred Treasure for his contribution to Japanese-American friendship.  He was demoted to the rank of Colonel by General Eisenhower and became active in politics after leaving the army.

"General Douglas MacArthur successfully oversaw the rebuilding of Japan.  He was less successful in his bid to become President of the United States.  In 1951 he was relieved of his command by President Harry S. Truman and retired from the army.

Emperor Hirohito renounced his status as a god.  His reign continued until his death in 1989."


Look at the evidence against Emperor Hirohito below from Wikipedia.   It seems obvious that the Emperor was guilty of crimes against humanity as far back as the Japanese war on China.  It appears to me that it was obvious that General Bonner Fellers was concerned primarily with Japan holding together.  He says there is no evidence either for or against the idea of the Emperor being a war criminal.  The evidence seems to say otherwise.  But MacArthur and Feller were mostly concerned with the job at hand.  They were responsible for the stability of Japan and wanted to keep the Emperor.  So they decided to justify their position in a Feller report on the matter. 

So the truth of the matter is that the Emperor was guilty of crimes against humanity, but the Americans needed him so they didn't prosecute him.  So, although I don't admire Feller's "research", I can't really condemn him because he did what the USA wanted him to do. 

Personally, I enjoyed the movie but all the way through I was disturbed by Feller's "research" as childish and wrong-headed.  He did nothing great, but he did do what his boss wanted. 

The love story in the film is a complete bust if you ask me.  All that set up for nothing in the end. 

My wife loves Tommy Lee Jones, but this time the film crew didn't get the MacArthur character.  Remember that MacArthur was seen as the American Caesar.  Here's a man who thought he was superior to the President of the United State, Harry S. Truman.  And as a Caesar, they should have made the man's character more regal and stand-offish, rather than being a good old-boy.  The character was too damn down-to-earth for a Caesar. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D. 

Historical Background:

since 1900  --  the Imperial Japanese Army and Imperial Japanese Navy hold veto power over the formation of cabinets.

1912 (July 30) to 1926 (December 25)  --the Taishō era, is a period coinciding with the reign of the Emperor Taishō.  The era is considered the time of the liberal movement known as the "Taishō democracy" in Japan.

1921-1944 --  there were no fewer than 64 incidents of political violence.

1926 (December 25)  --  Hirohito assumes the throne upon his father, Yoshihito's, death.  The Taishō era's end and the Shōwa era's beginning (Enlightened Peace) were proclaimed.  Shōwa era starts.  It was the period of Japanese history corresponding to the reign of the Shōwa Emperor, Hirohito, from December 25, 1926, through January 7, 1989.

The first part of Hirohito's reign took place against a background of financial crisis and increasing military power within the government, through both legal and extralegal means.

1931  --  Japan invades Manchuria.  Hirohito never really objected to China's invasion.  It had been recommended to him by his chiefs of staff and prime minister Fumimaro Konoe.  His questions to his chief of staff, Prince Kan'in, and minister of the army, Hajime Sugiyama, were mostly about the time it could take to crush Chinese resistance. 

1931 (August 5)  --  Hirohito personally ratified the Japanese Army's proposal to remove the constraints of international law on the treatment of Chinese prisoners.

The Emperor authorized, by specific orders, the use of chemical weapons against the Chinese.

1932  --  the assassination of moderate Prime Minister Inukai Tsuyoshi marks the end of civilian control of the military.

1936 (February 26)  --   attempted military coup the February 26 incident, mounted by junior Army officers of the Kōdōha faction who had the sympathy of many high-ranking officers including Prince Chichibu (Yasuhito), one of the Emperor's brothers. This revolt was occasioned by a loss of political support by the militarist faction in Diet elections. The coup resulted in the murders of a number of high government and Army officials.  The rebellion was put down.

1938 (August to October)  -  during the invasion of Wuhan, the Emperor authorized the use of toxic gas on 375 separate occasions, despite the resolution adopted by the League of Nations on May 14 condemning Japanese use of toxic gas

after 1939 (September 1)  --  after the success of the Wehrmacht in Europe, the Japanese Emperor consent to a treaty with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy.

1940 (September 27)  --  ostensibly under Hirohito's leadership, Japan forms the Tripartite Pact with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, forming the Axis Powers.

1941 (September 4)  -- the Japanese Cabinet meets to consider war plans prepared by Imperial General Headquarters.  They agree that if negotiation with the United States does not get them what they want by the first ten days of October, Japan will commence hostilities with the United States, Britain and France.  

1941 (September 5)  --  the war plans are presented to Hirohito by the chief of staff of the army, Sugiyama, chief of staff of the navy, Osami Nagano, and Prime Minister Konoe. The Emperor scolds Sugiyama for having told him that the War against China would be an easy one.  He asks Sugiyama if he is again lying to him? 

1941 (September 6)  --  at the Imperial Conference, the Emperor takes the unprecedented step of directly questioning the chiefs of the Army and Navy general staffs.  All speakers at the Imperial Conference were united in favor of war rather than diplomacy.  Hirohito again breaks precedent and breaks silence to stress the need for peaceful resolution of international problems.

1941 (October 8)  --  Sugiyama signs a 47-page report to the Emperor outlining in minute detail plans for the advance into Southeast Asia

1941 (October 16)  --  Prime Minister Konoe found himself more and more isolated with his stress more on peace than war and gives in his resignation.  He says the Emperor is a pacifist, but more and more he is drifting toward war.  The Emperor chooses for prime minister the hard-line General Hideki Tōjō, who was known for his devotion to the imperial institution.

1941 (November 2)  --  Tōjō, Sugiyama and Nagano reports to the Emperor.   Hirohito gives his consent to the war and then asked: "Are you going to provide justification for the war?" The decision for war (against United States) was presented for approval to Hirohito by General Tōjō, Naval Minister Admiral Shigetarō Shimada, and Japanese Foreign Minister Shigenori Tōgō.

1941 (November 3)  --  Nagano explains in detail to the Emperor the plan for an attack on Pearl Harbor.

1941 (November 5)  --  Hirohito approves in imperial conference the operations plan for a war against the Occident.  From then on until the end of the month, the Emperor had many meetings with the military and Tōjō.

1941 (November 25)  --  Henry L. Stimson, United States Secretary of War noted in his diary that he had discussed with US President Franklin D. Roosevelt the severe likelihood that Japan was about to launch a surprise attack, and that the question had been "how we should maneuver them [the Japanese] into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.'"

1941 (November 26)  --  Hull presented the Japanese ambassador with the Hull note, which as one of its conditions demanded the complete withdrawal of all Japanese troops from French Indochina and China.

1941 (December 1)  --  an Imperial Conference sanctioned the "War against the United States, United Kingdom and the Kingdom of the Netherlands."

1941(December 7)  --  Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. 

During the war, Hirohito takes an intense interest in the progress of the war, and offers suggestions to the military.  With the reversals of the Battle of Midway and Guadalcanal, Hirohito pushed the army and navy for a greater effort in the war.  

1942 (September)  --  Emperor Hirohito signs the Imperial Rescript condemning to death American Fliers: Lieutenants Dean E. Hallmark, William G. Farrow and Corporal Harold A. Spatz.

1943 (August) --  Sugiyama tells the Emperor that they cannot stop the American advance through the Solomon Islands.  The Emperor asks his chief of staff to consider other places to attack : "When and where on are you ever going to put up a good fight? And when are you ever going to fight a decisive battle?"

1943 (August 24)  --  the Emperor reprimands Nagano.

1943 (September 11)  --  the Emperor orders Sugiyama to work with the Navy to implement better military preparation and give adequate supply to soldiers fighting in Rabaul. 

1945 (June)  --  the cabinet reassessed the war strategy, only to decide more firmly than ever on a fight to the last man. This strategy was officially affirmed at a brief Imperial Council meeting, at which, as was normal, the Emperor did not speak. 

1945 (June)  --  there is no agreement on whether at this time the Emperor was siding with the idea of peace or the idea of war. 

The USA atom bombs Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

1945 (August 15)  --   a recording of the Emperor's surrender speech is broadcast over the radio signifying the unconditional surrender of Japan's military forces.

Many historians see Emperor Hirohito as responsible for the atrocities committed by the imperial forces in the Second Sino-Japanese War and in World War II and feel that he, some members of the imperial family such as his brother Prince Chichibu, his cousins Prince Takeda and Prince Fushimi, and his uncles Prince Kan'in, Prince Asaka, and Prince Higashikuni, should have been tried for war crimes.


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