Directed by: Aleksandr Sokurov
Countries & Regions: France
Length: 106 mins
Region: Region 2
Released: 20 February 2006
Cat No: ART307DVD
Languages(s): English, Japanese
Dolby Digital 2.0
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Russian director Alexandr Sukorov turns his attention to Japanese Emperor Hirohito (Issei Ogata) in the final part of his trilogy... Read More
The Sun is a memorably strange study of Emperor Hirohito in August 1945 in the hours before the Americans’ arrival and his radio broadcast surrender.
The Emperor, 124th descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu, was also the man who later took the extraordinary step of publicly renouncing his own divine nature and origins, and Sokurov gives us a portrait of a somewhat diffident man, immensely troubled by the consequences of his decisions.
Sokurov is a filmmaker of inner worlds and suspended time, using subtly unnerving distortions of scale, sound and picture to present the Emperor’s state of mind. Radio static, snatches of music, crickets and aeroplane drones fade in and out of his life and scenes often take place in settings that suggest the outward manifestations of his thoughts and spirit. The film mostly takes place in and below the one surviving building in the grounds of the Emperor’s palace, his marine biology laboratory, and the palette of the interiors in which he resides is muted, with the olives, ochres and umbers of his wood-panelled rooms and the greys of the bunker corridors predominant. It makes the scenes where he leaves the building to endure the bewildering, goonish attentions of the American troops and photographers all the more affecting. Colour here is as bleached as an overexposed photograph and he seems as defenceless as the soft-shelled hermit crab he has been considering in his laboratory.
Though the dreamlike atmosphere is to be expected from Sokurov, he manages to wrongfoot us with unexpected moments of comedy that occur throughout the film and also scenes that initially seem to be digressions – the consideration of a hermit crab, the composition of a poem, a discussion about the northern lights – but which are in fact integral to the formation of the Emperor’s decisions.
The performance of the lead role is demanding – the actor is on screen for almost the entire film – and Issey Ogata is absolutely mesmerising with his preoccupied demeanour and his persistent silent mouthing in which he tries out the shapes of words that could well be his speech of renunciation, or even words of English with which to greet his conquerors. The way he finds a way through indignity – opening doors, being interrupted – and humiliation at the hands of the victors is a captivating watch.
We are also shown a man in the process of becoming human. This leads to an especially poignant moment during one of his meetings with General McArthur, in which, after the General leaves the room for a few moments, Hirohito snuffs out all of the candles lighting their dining table. It is obviously the first time in his cossetted life that he has had the pleasure of doing such a thing and it gives him evident satisfaction. He is unaware that the General is watching him, maybe having left the room for precisely that purpose, smirking at his actions from behind a door. The relationship between Hirohito and General McArthur begins without even the basis for mutual comprehension. Though it does not develop to anything like understanding, it is perhaps moments like these that lead the General to treat the Emperor with a victor’s indulgence.
The film is a stream of consistently memorable images, and though scenes such as the Emperor’s troubled aftenoon vision in which Tokyo is fire-bombed by flying-fish capture the attention, those that linger longest are when the Emperor is shown alone (though, as always, peered upon by his servants), composing a poem and a letter to his son, or later, putting the words to his speech of renunciation. Here, with the moon shining in through the window, he resembles the romantic vision of a bedsit poet. He is later shown sitting upright but asleep on a settee. It is one of a number of scenes in which he is shown as if trying out humanity to see how it will fit.