From director Peter Webber and Lionsgate comes a film about a history of forgiving with EMPEROR.
This film tells the story of Gen. Bonner Fellers (Matthew Fox), the right hand man of Gen. Douglas MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) at the end of World War II. Fellers is given the task of gathering information that could possibly decide the hanging of Emperor Hirohito (Takataro Kataoka) for war crimes.
While in Japan, Fellers must also come to terms with his visit before the war between the United States and this country ever happened. It is here he met Aya (Eriko Hatsune), a lovely woman who disappeared among the many faces of Japan when the war broke out.
As the story of what happened with the Emperor and his cabinet slowly emerges, so does the story of Aya. With ten days to find all the answers, Fellers can not let his heart get in the way of his duty.
I was thrilled to have the opportunity to talk with Matthew Fox who plays General Bonner Fellers in the film. We got a chance to talk the depths of General Fellers and having Tommy Lee Jones as MacArthur.
Hi Matthew, thanks for talking to us today.
Absolutely, thank you.
What drew you to play the character of Gen. Feller?
It all starts with the scripts for me and I was really moved by the script. Then there was this whole historical moment in time that I really didn’t know very much about. It was really a pretty eye opening experience for me reading about it in the script. My historical knowledge of WWII is dominated by what was going on in Europe and I think for allot of people that is the case. What was going on inside Germany with the Holocaust.
Since you were interested in the history did you have to go deep to get that feeling you needed to play this part?
No I didn’t, I wanted to but I didn’t feel it was necessary to play the part. I feel like the people who wrote the script did so much research done on the script I felt it was in a really good place. Just for my own curiosity I really did want to do some reading and research and learn about the occupation of Japan by MacArthur. It started with that month long period with the apprehension of the war criminals and putting them on trial either exonerating them or executing them and the way all of that was done and how it was done in such a short amount of time. Also the pressure that McCarthy was getting from Washington and all of that was interesting to me and I wanted to learn about it. That was all really interesting to me and I enjoyed learning as much as I could about it during the process of making the movie.
Tommy Lee Jones says at one point about your character at one point that he was on a journey between the love and hate of Japan, how was that for you to jump between both feelings?
I think in my imagination that Fellers were like most Americans that when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the US and there was allot of hatred there. When two nations are at war there is going to be hatred and mistrust. At the same time Fellers really did understand the Japanese culture more than most because of this love for a Japanese woman that he has and the context of our film. I think it really would have been a really deep struggle going on for him knowing on one hand that he must seek the truth and on the other being who he is making it more of a struggle.
There is that hardness that he has to maintain not to let that side of him that loves the Japanese girl comes out so much? Don’t you think he has that hardness?
Yes, yes, I think he was a pretty hard man in 1945 like most people who go through war and see the things he would have seen in the south pacific and command people to their death. It was my goal that the Fellers we see in 1944 is a much harder man than the Fellers we see in 1930 when he’s falling in love. I think that Fellers was a much happier and a more open individual. The Fellers in 1945 is more of a broken man – broken by war and I wanted to capture that.
The narrative, you don’t back the brutality of it in any way. Was that something else that drew you to the role that they didn’t try to cover it all up?
For sure, I can’t even imagine what its like to go through something like that. One of the things that was very important to me is that the movie be very balanced. Not to feel like it is soft or try to downplay anything or take sides in any way. This movie ultimately is about reconciliation and about the smart decisions that I feel were made and the smart foreign US policy decisions that were made in 1945 and how that shaped what Japan has become today and allot of Asia. I think allot of decisions could have been made that would have been disastrous for that region. I think that the movie is a very good moment for US foreign policy decisions and that was appealing to me.
I’m sure you’ve gotten this question a million times but working with Tommy Lee Jones, can you tell us about that?
I just felt that he was the perfect actor to play MacArthur. I had a wonderful time working with him. I felt that he was going to be absolutely great in the role. He had an interesting challenge because MacArthur is one of our most iconic military figures of the 20th century if not the most. We know allot about MacArthur. He’s a guy who’s in our historical consciousness and we have his imagery and film footage of him. The image of him with a corn cob pipe and how he stood so I was curious how Tommy was going to approach that and how much he was going to pay homage to the man that we know existed and just how much Tommy Lee Jones was going to come through. On an acting level it was really interesting to me to watch how Tommy approached it and he was so professional and very focused. I really enjoyed working with him.
In the final scenes of the film between MacArthur and the emperor and you and Aya, I felt that it was such a forgiving moment between the four characters. Did you know that how that was going to turn out?
No, you never know how the movie is going to be put together. You as an actor just try to tell the story the best you can and Peter Webber is a fantastic editor and director and you just sort of have faith that the people putting the movie together are going to put it together in a way that was most effective. I was hopeful that those were the scenes that came out of the movie about forgiveness and understanding and hope for the future and those types of very positive things. Its part of what we loved about the script was this beautiful epic and a very beautiful story.
Your character had to forgive himself so much because he had put himself through so much, just to see that scene was an ‘oh wow’ moment?
I’m so glad you said that, thank you so much
So the big question is what did you learn from the film that you didn’t expect?
I think for me I learned that the historical time is more clear for me. I know that I could probably dedicate the next ten years of my life to learning more about the details of what happened in the few years after we occupied Japan. I’m sure there is so much rich history to learn there. I think the thing that stands out for me the most is that there were decisions made during a time in which there was pressure to make different decisions. I think that when the Japanese surrendered I think the politicians in Washington and the American population felt the need for justice and feelings of vengeance for Pearl Harbor and how the Japanese started the war. Yet I feel like that somehow through McCarthy and Fellers that the decisions that were ultimately made there that people managed to put that aside and think of the bigger picture and look down the field a long ways and make the right decisions in my opinion. I learned quite a bit.
Did you think your character was awful young to be a general?
Actually, Fellers was the first member of his West Point class to become a Brigadier general and was made one very, very young. That’s pretty accurate to the situation.
Were you surprised he was so young?
I think he was a very intelligent guy and very dedicated to his responsibilities. From all reports that I read that he wrote he seemed like a guy who took his orders and what he was asked to do very, very seriously. He was dedicated and I’m sure he approached his time at West Point that way. He was a dedicated and hard working individual and smart too.
Did portraying a military man give you a different or new perspective on the military?
I’ve always had the utmost respect for the armed services and the types of sacrifices made by the people we have in those services. I am really proud to be part of this film but I don’t think my respect or appreciation went up because it was already so high before the film. Its one of those things that you wonder what it would be like to be in the military and dedicate your life to that and potentially end up in conflict. Imagining it is a very difficult thing.
You’ve been choosing such diverse roles?
I read things and certain things strike me. I must say that I think the reason is I’m attracted to such different things. I don’t want to play the same kind of thing or be in the same type of stories. I think its far more interesting to do different things as an actor and I love period pieces. I’m never really looking specifically for my next project to be a certain thing; I just get attracted to stuff. I was so wrapped up in the story and what your character was trying to deal with the dual situation looking for a love and trying to do a very hard job.
You didn’t miss anything, Congratulations!
Thank you so much, I appreciate that.
And thanks for taking the time to talk with us today.
FINAL WORD: Fox as Gen. Feller is such a deep character. Knowing that his duty to gather information is a duty to his country. On the opposite side is his obvious love for Japan, the culture and a special woman. Fox recognized this and brought it to his character in such a torn way. Mixing the two stories of love and duty is difficult enough, but to do it without losing site of the story is well done by Fox.
Tommy Lee Jones as General MacArthur – what else is there to say? Standing in another man’s iconic shoes, Jones gives us the best of MacArthur from his stance to the corn cob pipe. At the same time the job of bringing Japan future can be seen in the moment between General and Emperor – that scene was stunning.
Other cast include: Kaori Momoi as Mitsuko Kajima, Aaron Jackson as Lt. Col Rogers, Toshiyuki Nishida as General Kajima, William Wallace as CIC Commander, Masato Ibu as Koichi Kido, Isao Natsuyagi as Teizaburo Sekiya, Nic Sampson as Lt. Red, Colin moy as General Richter and Shohei Hino as Hideki Tojo.
TUBS OF POPCORN: I give Emperor four tubs of popcorn out of five. This truly is an interesting look at a part of history that many do not know. It doesn’t candy coat any of the despair and addressing what the United States could do to help war torn Japan.
This film, although about war, the effects of war and the result of war – it is also about the potential to believe in a future for both sides. There is so much forgiveness lined into the movie that it makes the story more moving.
I am a huge fan of period pieces and EMPORER delivers. From costuming to cinematography this film is brilliant and the icing on the cake is the performances by some of the most amazing actors both from the United States and Japan. Seeing the Imperial Palace (and the first movie to be allowed to do so) it is so elegant and beautiful.
In the end – after the war was won the battle for peace began!
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