Legionnaires attending this year's Washington Conference will get the chance to see a special screening of the feature film "Emperor ," set for nationwide release on March 8.
The fact-based film tells the story of how Gen. Douglas MacArthur and his aide, Brig. Gen. Bonner Fellers, grappled with the monumental task of rebuilding Japan and determining the fate of Emperor Hirohito in the aftermath of World War II. While the Japanese people revered Hirohito as a deity, many Americans saw him as a war criminal and demanded justice.
Hirohito was spared punishment for crimes committed by his empire, yet the story of how that decision was reached is tale not often told.
Gary Foster, one of the film's producers, said the idea for "Emperor" began when fellow producer Yoko Narahashi came across some correspondence kept by her deceased grandfather. He had served as a key member of Hirohito's interior ministry, and several of the letters mentioned Fellers.
"We've done a lot of movies in Hollywood and around the world about how the war was fought, and there's some amazing stories of heroism," said Foster, who produced the Oscar-nominated film "Sleepless in Seattle." Yet a movie about winning the peace in Japan after such a horrific war had not been produced until now.
Foster said the film "is a story of strong men with forward-thinking vision, who were not seduced by the political and emotional feelings of revenge – but were looking to build long-lasting peace and relationships around the world."
The role of MacArthur, who led the U.S. Army's "island-hopping" campaign in the Pacific, is played by Oscar-winner Tommy Lee Jones. In 1994, he was named Best Supporting Actor for his portrayal of U.S. marshal Sam Gerard in "The Fugitive". Jones has played other historical figures in films such as "JFK", "Cobb" and "Lincoln."
Matthew Fox takes on the role of Fellers, who served as MacArthur's right-hand man in the investigation of Hirohito and his family members. Fox starred in the Emmy Award-winning ABC television series, "Lost," and in the Fox network series, "Party of Five."
MacArthur remains a controversial figure in America's history, a military genius with political aspirations of his own. Foster thinks "it's a good time to explore how successful and important he was" during the occupation of Japan. "What he did for Asia and our relationship, and the world's geopolitical security in that region of the world was huge," Fox said. "We're still in a good place today because of it."
While "Emperor" examines how the fate of postwar Japan was determined, members of The American Legion will be converging upon the nation's capital in less than two weeks for its annual Washington Conference. Legionnaires will try to help determine the future of America's military preparedness and its veterans by visiting their congressional representatives and senators, and urging them to do right by America's servicemembers and veterans in the face of looming federal budget cuts.
Foster says "Emperor" offers an excellent example "of how leaders were able to put the good of countries ahead of political ambition and political expediency. And I hope that the Legionnaires who see this film, and who have conversations with the congressmen and senators, will use it as an example of how we really can make significant changes and long-standing peace if we take the petty, small, personal items out of it.
"That's not what leaders do. They're willing to pay a price for greater success, and I think that's what MacArthur did, that's what Fellers did in this particular story."
The free screening is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 26, in the International Ballroom on the concourse level in the Washington Hilton Hotel, 1919 Connecticut Ave. NW. All Legionnaires, Auxiliary members, Sons of The American Legion and guests are invited to attend the screening.
A panel discussion will take place after the screening; participants include Foster, fellow producer Eugene Nomura and Georgetown University Professor Michael Green, who served as historical consultant for "Emperor."
Foster said the sacrifice and commitment of U.S. troops in the Pacific laid the groundwork for the successes of MacArthur and his team. He called the rebuilding of Japan "one of the finest examples of what America and its military can do, not only to win a war but also to win the peace. What I'm proud about is that this film honors all the sacrifice that was made – by those who survived after the war and those who gave their lives during the war. It wouldn't have been possible without them."