Friday, November 20, 2009

Movie Review: The Sun

The Sun *** ½
Directed By:
Aleksandr Sokurov.
Written By: Yuri Arabov.
Starring: Issei Ogata (Hirohito), Robert Dawson (General Douglas MacArthur), Kaori Momoi (Empress Kojun).

The Sun completes Aleksandr Sokurov’s trilogy about men of power. I haven’t seen the first two – Moloch about Hitler or Telets about Lenin, but The Sun about Japanese Emperor Hirohito is an amazing movie. In the waning days of the War in the Pacific, Hirohito is staying in his isolated palace. Two atomic bombs have been dropped on his country. He has sent his family away fearing that the palace maybe hit. His only company is a couple of loyal servants. At breakfast one morning they run through his schedule. He’s got a meeting with the military, then he has a couple of hours to do his marine biology research, then lunch, then a nap then a period for quiet reflection. “And if the Americans show up here today, will we keep the schedule of change it?” he asks. He’s told that as long as there is one Japanese man still alive, the Americans will never set foot here. Hirohito wonders aloud if he’s going to be the last Japanese man alive. He’s told it’s inappropriate to talk like that. As Emperor, he is a direct descendant of the Sun God and as such, he is not a man at all. But why? He has a body like any other man. Again, that’s an inappropriate thing to say.

Eventually, the Americans do show up. General McArthur wants to meet with Hirohito. The two talk and they are pleasant enough to each other. But when the topic turns to the war, things get a little testy. Hirohito observes that two atomic bombs have been dropped on his country. McArthur replies that that wasn’t his call. But the fact that Japan attacked Pearl Harbor is just as bad. Hirohito replies that that wasn’t his call either. McArthur questions him about his relationship to Hitler. Hirohito replies that he never met him and the alliance was one made for purely strategic gains, not because he necessarily believed in what Hitler stood for. These two men of seemingly endless power are really nothing more than pawns in other people’s games.

The movie presents Hirohito is a strange way. He’s innocent, almost childlike. He reminds people of Charlie Chaplin. He is not a power hungry madman, like Hitler or Mussolini, but rather a man who feels rather burdened by his position. His generals tell him that their men are still fierce fighters and for them retreat is not an option. Hirohito knows that if he doesn’t do something, then many more of his people are going to die. When he learns that part of the agreement of surrender will be to renounce his status as a deity, his response is almost one of relief more than anger.

Sokrurov’s movie is full of long, unbroken shots and impressive sound design. Gus Van Sant has said that Sokurov’s work is a major influence on his recent efforts like Gerry, Elephant and Last Days. The link is undeniable. But whereas Van Sant focuses his aim at death in modern day America – death by a friend, death by a stranger and death by oneself – Sokurov’s looks at men of the past with power. I am going to try and track down Moloch and Telets, which like The Sun never received proper distribution in North America, to see what his vision of those men are. Here, he’s more sympathetic than I expected him to be. He doesn’t view Hirohito as a monster, or even a bad man, just an innocent caught in a game he never really wanted to play. And that is daring in its own right.

Note: I saw this movie three years ago, when for some reason it played for a week here in Toronto. I wrote the review at the time, never expecting it to see the light of day, as at that point I was simply writing for myself, not to post online. But now for some reason, the film has secured a limited American release, so I decided to run this review. Because it has been so long since I saw the film, all I did was clean up the grammer a little bit and posted it. I never did track down the other two films by the why, but this review reminded me to try again.

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