After Japan’s surrender in 1945, General MacArthur, commander of the American occupying forces was left in a tricky position: Washington wanted him to convict the Japanese emperor as a war criminal, yet such a decision could provoke open revolt from the country’s defeated yet still loyal populace. In this respectable historical drama, a dogged Matthew Fox takes centre stage as the American military expert Bonner Fellers assigned to shape the general’s decision. It’s a workhorse role that inspires much voiceover and dialogue explaining the cultural differences between the nations, and the divine status of Japan’s ceremonial head of state.
It’s all done with care and authentic Japanese locations, and is engrossing for anyone with an interest in the subject. But there’s scant drama as proceedings plod their way towards mutual understanding – and little of the epic spectacle promised by the UK marketing campaign. Given the hindrance of a bland secondary romance angle (fictionalised from Fellers’s backstory), thank heavens for a splendid Tommy Lee Jones, stealing every scene as the wily, grandstanding, yet essentially honourable MacArthur.