Sun, The

Director: Alexander Sokurov

Russia-Italy-France-Switzerland| 2005. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 110 min.

This stunning new film by Alexander Sokurov (Russian Ark) is the third instalment in his planned tetralogy about 20th century men of power, following Moloch (about the last days of Hitler) and Taurus (about Lenin’s demise). Emperor Hirohito is Sokurov’s subject in The Sun, which is set in Japan during the summer of 1945, after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On August 15, Hirohito made a public appeal and commanded his army to cease all fighting, thus saving millions of lives. He later renounced the Emperor’s divine status, much to the dismay of many Japanese. For Sokurov, Hirohito is a much more sympathetic figure than Hitler or Lenin because, unlike them, he finally embraced his humanity rather than clinging to power. ‘He didn’t look like a bloodthirsty god of war at all,’ says Sokurov. ‘Rather, Hirohito preferred the saving of human lives to the idea of national pride. This is the great legacy of Hirohito and of those American politicians who could understand and appreciate his position. In 1945, Hirohito and General MacArthur found a way out of a situation that seemed insoluble.’
Issei Ogata, who is in almost every shot, offers a frail, almost childlike but profoundly touching performance as Hirohito, whether he is acting like the official emblem he is supposed to represent or calmly rebelling against it. His encounters with MacArthur (Robert Dawson) are deftly handled and work as both character studies and sharp depictions of uneasy encounters between different cultures. At first each man is utterly baffled by the other, but gradually a mutual respect develops. Ultimately, The Sun emerges as more a personal drama than a political one. ‘I don’t make films about dictators, says Sokurov, ‘but I make films about those people who are more outstanding than the rest. They appear to be in possession of ultimate power, but human characteristics such as weakness and passion affect their deeds more than their status and circumstances. Human qualities are higher than any historical situation—higher and stronger.’

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