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SUN, THE (Solntse)(director: Aleksandr Sokurov; screenwriters: Yuri Arabov/Jeremy Noble; cinematographer: Aleksandr Sokurov; editor: Sergei Ivanov; music: Andrei Sigle; cast: Issey Ogata (Shouwa-Tennou Hirohito), Robert Dawson (General Douglas MacArthur), Kaori Momoi (Empress Kojun), Shiri Sano (The chamberlain), Shinmei Tsuji (Old servant), Taijiro Tamura (Scientist), Hiroya Morita (Suzuki, Prime Minister), Georgi Pitskhelauri (McArthur’s warrant officer); Runtime: 106; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Igor Kalenov/Marco Muller/Andrei Sigle; Artificial Eye; 2005-Russia/Italy/Francein Japanese and English with some English subtitles)
“A grippingly disturbing film that presents a new perspective on the Emperor than the usual one ladled out in most American school history courses.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Aleksandr Sokurov (“Russian Ark”/”Father and Son”/”Sonata for Viola”) directs this mesmerizing but questionable historical phantasmagoria, a depiction of the defeated Japan’s Emperor Hirohito (Issey Ogata), in August 1945, right after the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as he is held by American troops under palace arrest in a bombed-out Japan. It leads up to the famous radio broadcast (not filmed) where the Emperor tells his subjects to cease all fighting as he renounced his divine status as the descendant of a sun goddess and thus saved many Japanese and some American lives as a gesture made in the name of tranquility and prosperity. It also shows the physically slight emperor meeting twice with the imposing gruff U.S. commander-in-chief of the occupying American forces, General Douglas MacArthur (Robert Dawson).

This fascinating and intelligently presented historical drama serves as the third part in Aleksandr Sokurov’s tetralogy on powerful figures in Germany, Russia and Japan, following “Moloch” (on Hitler) and “Taurus” (on Lenin). The fourth on Faust is promised soon.

It chronicles a day in the life of Japan’s Emperor Hirohito, as he adheres to a rigid schedule layed out for him by his servants–every second of his day is accounted for including when he takes a nap. The Emperor seems to be enjoying himself as he spends time on his personal interests such as studying marine biology, composing haiku, viewing photos of Hollywood female stars, and less relaxed when he meets with his chief of staffs. We then observe two meetings he has in English, in a candlelit room, with the informal and abrupt General MacArthur, who asks the highly cultured Emperor “What’s it like to be a living God?” and “How are the Emperor’s children?” No Abu Ghraib here, as MacArthur even sends the Emperor a box of Hershey bars.

As a head trip psychological drama it takes a crack at getting into such a strange psyche and subtly questions how the masses could have such blind faith in him as a sun god, which is not that much unlike how the West worships and follows its political gods (think Bush leading the unquestioning masses on to a bogus war in Iraq!). Even if it doesn’t totally tell us who the heck he was, it at least is provocative and takes us down an interesting path of getting some idea of how his thinking process worked and what pressures he was under to follow strict traditions, as he comes off as a ruler who was reluctant to go to war but had no choice because that was his fate. It seems he’s more childlike, clownish, pensive and out of the loop than anyone can imagine. According to the Emperor, he never met Hitler and never ordered the attack on Pearl Harbor. If that’s cricket, that means he was used as a puppet of others in power who wanted the war and they used his monarchy as a means of getting the Japanese people riled up to die for their Emperor. The Allied powers wanted Emperor Hirohito to appear before a military tribunal as a war criminal, while General MacArthur thinks otherwise and advises the American President not to try him as a war criminal. The filmmaker clearly shows where his sympathies lie in this matter.

Issey Ogata gives a masterful performance as the cloistered Emperor who is a victim of his deification, as he completely inhabits his imprisoned emperor’s secretive and reserved character that hides an ignorance of worldly matters and a death-wish embedded in his inheritance. Robert Dawson is pedestrian as the general, and acts mostly as a foil for Ogata as he helps bring out an intimate portrait of the perceived God who has come down to Earth to be a mere mortal. I highly recommend the slow moving film, not meant as an entertainment only vehicle, whether or not it got its story straight, for the rich rewards it dishes out for those who can keep awake. The Sun is a grippingly disturbing film that presents a new perspective on the Emperor than the usual one ladled out in most American school history courses.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”