Thursday, March 21, 2013

Should Hirohito Have Been Hanged? The Movie Emperor Addresses That Question

The US occupation lands in the ruins of Tokyo in August 1945.  McArthur wants to make this occupation the model for all occupations.  There's pressure from DC for the Emperor's head, but McArthur believes that would cause the Japanese to revolt and cost countless American lives.  But as the symbol of Japan, stateside politicians want his head.

General Bonner Fellers was given the task of finding evidence that would exonerate the Emperor of supporting the war.  He's given ten days to accomplish this.

There are lots of flashbacks to Bonner and his Japanese girlfriend in college and later in Japan as he pursues his task.

This film didn't feel like a typical Hollywood movie.  It was thoughtful, yet moved right along, weaving the past and present well. (The NY Times reviewer Stephen Holden was less generous about the flashbacks, and while they worked ok for me, his comments about east-west romance do ring true.)  It's tricky when you're discussing an historical movie.  Do you evaluate it as a movie, regardless of its historical accuracy?  Do you focus on its accuracy?  Or do you do one review for each?  Of course, this assumes the reviewer knows the history. My basic qualification is having read William Manchester's biography of McArthur, American Caesar.   In other words, not enough to judge the history,  but things didn't fly out at me as obviously phony as they did in Argo.  And as a film, I liked it a lot. 

The Bonners Fellers website that says it is maintained by his family endorses it this way:

The compelling and meditative film Emperor depicts with fidelity
Bonner Fellers' character and
the complexities of finding the path toward justice and peace.

The Bonner Fellers website also tells us more about General Fellers.


Bonner Fellers entered Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, in 1914. He became friends with a Japanese exchange student who introduced him to Japanese culture and history, including the writings of Lafcadio Hearn.  He visited Japan 4 times prior to WWII.  In 1934 he wrote an insightful and prescient thesis entitled "The Psychology of the Japanese Soldier."  It foresaw Japanese behavior, including Kamikaze attacks, and suggested strategies to address Japanese militaristic tendencies.
From 1942-1946, Brigadier General Fellers was in the Pacific Theater under General MacArthur.  Along with many other assignments, he led the psychological warfare effort against Japanese forces and the homeland. For this he was awarded a second Distinguished Service Medal.  The citation reads in part, "Through his outstanding professional ability and resourcefulness, General Fellers contributed in a marked degree to Japan's surrender and the initial success of the military occupation."
During the first year of the occupation he was MacArthur's military secretary and Secretary General of the Allied Council for Japan.  Due to his 30 year military experience and interaction with Japan, MacArthur relied on him for advice.
In 1971, Emperor Hirohito conferred on him the Second Order of the Sacred Treasure.

A good film.  

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