by director Peter Webber
There is a saying, "Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it," but these (misquoted) words of George Santayana are misleading. Recent history shows us making new and very different mistakes because we fail to remember the past. I have no doubt that wiser and better decisions may have been taken in recent years if the true story of America’s occupation of Japan at the end of WWII had been more widely known.
Emperor is inspired by the true events of 1945, when America began its occupation of Japan at the end of the grueling Pacific War. This war had begun in earnest with the infamous Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, though both sides had been jostling for power in the region long before the first shot was fired. It was a vicious struggle that resulted in horrendous destruction and many casualties on both sides. The war finally ended with the use of the Atomic Bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
One might expect, after so many years of struggle and suffering, that the cries for revenge or "justice" would have been impossible to ignore. Yet history shows that General MacArthur and Bonner Fellers, the men assigned to head up the Occupation, took a more nuanced view of events. With the horrific crimes of war committed by Japan’s Imperial Army so fresh in people’s minds, this took some nerve. They made a series of decisions that ultimately laid the groundwork for over 50 years of peace, and the complete re-invention of Japan from a militaristic empire into a stable, peaceful democratic nation that became an economic powerhouse. These two men and the surprising decisions they took in this tumultuous period were the jumping off point for the film.
I always ask, when given the opportunity to direct a period movie, Why this story? Why tell it now? It seemed, to me at least, that this was a historical tale that had much contemporary relevance. War and regime change have dominated the headlines in recent years. This movie has a story to tell about these issues.
The many pleasures of directing it were clear: there was the opportunity to explore the psychology of a defeated nation and the chance to re-create the apocalyptic, rubble strewn landscape of 1945 Tokyo, not to mention the honor of working with a legendary Japanese ensemble cast. In addition to this there was also the intriguing possibility of bringing to life two long-dead American heroes, iconic in the case of MacArthur, lesser known in the case of Bonner Fellers. We had the pleasure of shooting in the grounds of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, the first time a motion picture had been allowed such access. During post production I spent many months dodging Hobbits as we were using Peter Jackson’s Park Road Post Production facility in New Zealand, where much of the movie was shot.
And now the time has come to finally share our work with audiences across the USA. I hope they enjoy it.