Aleksandr Sokurov's The Sun (Russia-Fra-Ita-Swi / 2005)
Posted: Wed May 16, 2007 3:14 am
The Sun (Solntse), the third chapter in Russian director Aleksandr Sokurovs projected tetrology about "Men of Power," compellingly considers Japanese Emperor Hirohito and his actions at the end of World War II. Regarded as divine by the Japanese people through faith and tradition, Hirohito (Issei Ogata) is presented as a feeble, Chaplinesque figure (Sokurov makes sure that we get the reference) who is initially seen holed up in his well-equipped bunker underneath the imperial palace. The ritualization of his daily activities, no matter how minor, seem to have caused a dent or two in his demeanor. The one thing which does allow Hirohito some space however is his affection for biology (marine, in particular). He even indulges in its evolutionary aspects during a tense meeting with the war cabinet whose members offer a somewhat conflicted, albeit patriotic, view of the worsening situation.
Even though the early sequences in the film exhibit the Emperors naivet regarding the war and Japanese history (he even draws a blank when his chamberlain alludes to the events of 1924), it slowly but surely becomes apparent that Hirohito has been profoundly affected by them. At one point, he recalls a mystical, apocalyptic vision in which a city gets firebombed by some menacing sea creatures (bringing to mind the war sequences from Howls Moving Castle ); also, while pontificating the natural tendencies of a hermit crab in his laboratory, all of a sudden it occurs to him that the cause of the national shame in 1924 were Californias anti-immigration laws. And so it becomes evident that, for Sokurov, Hirohitos confounding emotional and psychological state in the initial post-war days reflected an inability to deal with the pertinent issues. Which perhaps makes his ultimate breakthrough all the more affecting.
"[The Sun] is not a documentary and not a political film," Sokurov has said. "We all know what happened to Japan: Japan was very aggressive, invaded other countries and had to pay the price." While its debatable how much we all really know about the scale of the atrocities Japan committed during the years leading up to W.W.II (especially in the Second Sino-Japanese War), and how much control of the military the Emperor truly had, Sokurov and his primary screenwriter Yuri Arabov (who was also involved with Moloch  and Taurus , the first two chapters of the tetrology which portrayed Hitler and Lenin, respectively) have chosen not to delve into that subject. Instead, theyve attempted to seize the moment when Hirohito and U.S. General Douglas MacArthur (Robert Dawson) changed the fate of millions by thinking and acting progressively.
Still, that wont be enough to satisfy many historically minded individuals, and perhaps rightfully so, but there shouldnt be any questions regarding what the filmmaker has achieved here in formal terms. Sokurov shot The Sun himself -- on digital video which was then transferred to film. The grainy, nebulously-lit sepia-toned images mark an exquisite canvas on which he has expressionistically displayed his visual panache (Sokurov has stated that the crepuscular look was inspired by the work of Rembrandt). The sound-design is just as rich and creative. The ambient, static-ridden vibrations give way to the sublimity of Bach and Wagner.
Sokurovs aesthetics are well complimented by those of Ogata. His facial tics, including constant mouthing of inaudible words, are meant to relay the strain of the divine monarchy, which Hirohito's actions altered forever. (Artistic depiction of the Emperor, who died in 1989 after leading the country for more than 62 years, is still a touchy subject in Japan. To avoid any problems with the right-wing groups, Sokurov didn't reveal the names of the Japanese cast members during production.) Ogata's remarkable performance ultimately renders what Sokurovs aim for his subject was to be: human.
*THE SUN premiered at the 2005 Berlin Film Festival (in-competition). It's still seeking distribution in the U.S. (My Best Undistributed Films (2006) list.)
*Available on DVD in the U.K. (Artificial-Eye). (Special Features: Production notes by Sokurov, Filmographies, Theatrical trailer.)