Box art for Emperor


action & adventure, drama

A gripping tale of love and honor forged between fierce enemies of war, inspired by true events and starring Matthew Fox and Academy Award®-winner Tommy Lee Jones as General Douglas MacArthur.

Rotten Tomatoes® scores

  • Critic Score
  • Audience Score

common sense

ON for kids age 14
0 out of 5
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
3 out of 5
3 out of 5
Positive messages
3 out of 5
Positive role models
2 out of 5
2 out of 5
3 out of 5

MacArthur meets Hirohito in interesting historical drama.

what parents need to know

Parents need to know that Emperor is a historical drama about American generals attempting to establish order in post-WWII Japan, as well as deciding whether or not to arrest and try Emperor Hirohito for war crimes. The filmmakers have padded the story with a fictional romance (which includes some kissing), but the movie could inspire students and families to do further research. Violence isn't especially frequent/graphic, but there are a couple of suicides (with blood), fighting, and images of a bombed-out Japan after the war. There's also some language, mostly coming from General MacArthur, including one use of "f--k." Characters smoke cigarettes (and one smokes a corncob pipe) throughout, which is accurate for the era the movie takes place in. The main character drinks beer, sake, and whisky and sometimes gets drunk, with no apparent repercussions.

what families can talk about

  • Families can talk about Emperor's violence. What parts were the most upsetting/disturbing? Why do you think so many of the Japanese characters commit or threaten suicide?
  • Why does Fellers drink and smoke so much? Is it related to the high stress of his job? Did people know in 1945 what they know now about cigarettes?
  • Why did Fellers choose not to arrest Hirohito? Did he make the right decision?
  • Why would the filmmakers add a romantic subplot to this story? What happens when fact and fiction are mixed?

movie reviews from Rotten Tomatoes®

  • Tomatometer®

    reviews counted: 21
    see all Emperor reviews
  • Audience


Top Critic Reviews

Rotten: Regrettably, "Emperor" does not match MacArthur's vigor, or mine his legacy. Instead, the movie is Fellers' tale and dryly told.

- Betsy Sharkey, Los Angeles Times, Thursday, March 7, 2013

Fresh: Fox is] so deadly serious, you long for a little fun. And that's what Jones supplies.

- Bill Goodykoontz, Arizona Republic, Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rotten: The subject is intrinsically compelling, yet the central story is padded with an uninvolving love story that functions mostly as obvious symbolism about compassion for the enemy.

- Claudia Puig, USA Today, Friday, March 8, 2013

Audience Reviews

2 stars

When you're tasked with retelling an interesting part of history, a story that few are familiar with, it's best to get out of the way. You don't need to gussy it up if the history, itself, is interesting enough to warrant a movie. Suck is the case with Emperor, a drama set in Japan weeks after their surrender to Allied forces in WWII. General Douglas MacArthur (a stodgy, scenery-chewing performance from Tommy Lee Jones) will rely upon the advice of one man (Matthew Fox) whether to try the Japanese emperor for war crimes for his possible involvement in the Pearl Harbor attack. The country is still recovering from the shock of nuclear bombs, its people could rebel against foreign occupiers, and the future of the country feels precariously on the brink. All of this makes for a good setting for a story, but Emperor doesn't stick this out. It keeps falling back to a lame love story about Fox's college days when he was smitten with a Japanese woman. So, now in Japan again, he desperately looks for her, having amber memories to times where he chased her around wooded areas (they must have done this a lot as a couple since it makes up the majority of his flashbacks). You keep thinking, isn't there a bigger story at work here than one guy's failed college romance? The rest of the movie is treated so cursory, with stiff-lip TV procedural attention, so that the details are all we get and the people get lost. Ultimately, Emperor is a movie that crushes us with the wrong history, misses out developing all the meaty stuff, and thinks what we truly want is Fox chasing after his lost love. It's a shame the movie is so boring while the history is not. Nate's Grade: C

- mrbungle7821, Friday, March 22, 2013

3 stars

A slightly hokey but still involving and moving fictionalized post-surrender military inquiry into Hirohito.

- ourprez, Friday, March 8, 2013

2 stars

Well who better to play Gen. Douglas MacArthur than the great Tommy Lee Jones, who is grizzled hardass defined. Jones is all kinds of excellent as Gen. MacArthur, assigned to aid in rebuilding war-torn Japan after World War II and bring Emperor Hirohito (Takataro Kataoka) to trial for war crimes. It's inspired casting bogged down by a so-so movie. With Emperor, director Peter Webber (Girl With a Pearl Earring), working from a stilted script from Vera Blasi and David Klass, puts most of the attention upon the lamest character. That would be Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox), the general tasked by MacArthur to conduct interviews with Hirohito's cabinet, those who still live and haven't taken to suicide, to decide if there is a case for the emperor to be tried for ordering the attack on Pearl Harbor, and whether he deserves a harsh punishment. It's a promising premise, but Emperor the movie instead turns its attention to a lame romance between Fellers and Aya Shimada (Eriko Hatsune), a Japanese girl he fell for in college before war soured everything. It's an obvious effort to paint a personal face upon a war, particularly on the issue of occupation, something that rings timely today in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not a bad idea, but the film executes it with cliches. The effect is uneven and clumsy. It's towards the end that the film really takes off and that's because Hirohito and MacArthur come face to face and it's a terrific scene, mostly thanks to Jones who does the general proud. Jones steals the movie. Pity it's not worth running away with.

- casillase1, Friday, March 15, 2013