Emperor of the sun: Issey Ogata as Emperor Hirohito
Alexander Sokurov (Russian Ark) is making a name for himself by portraying pivotal historic characters who have passed into history shrouded in myth in a more human light. He turned the lens on Hitler in Moloch and Lenin in Taurus. His new film, The Sun, gives Hirorito, the Japanese emperor, the human treatment. The Sun portrays him while in hiding in a bunker in the summer 1945 after a broadcast to the nation in which he called his people to cease all fighting and allow the Allies to land on Japan’s islands without encountering any form of resistance.
A human perspective on this WWII episode is particularly relevant considering that in Japan the emperor is seen as a direct descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu. Hirohito (Issey Ogata) renounced his divine ascendancy in order to keep the unity of his wrecked country. Despite the fact that his deed saved the lives of millions of people, the leaders of the ruling elite (which included China, Great Britain, the USSR and the US) demanded that Hirorito should be prosecuted by a military tribunal.
The main segment of the film consists of Hirorito’s meetings with the American commander in chief, General Douglas MacArthur (Robert Dawson) who realises that he’s not faced with a bloodthirsty dictator but a gentleman of slightly puerile manners, almost naïve in his discourse. A man whose heart was not set on war-mongering or power, but hydrobiology.
Ogata's performance is one of a kind. His diction is slowed-down as if he was under the effect of sedatives. His body language and facial expressions create an on-screen emperor with the skill of a brain surgeon and the sensitivity of a poet. His Hirorito is quirky, but endearing; a fascinating creature to behold. Another touching aspect of the film is the loyalty and anguish of those who assist him in his bunker, who almost can’t bear the sight of their divine emperor being humiliated, devoid of divinity and looking like he’s losing his sanity.
The Sun proves yet again that Sakurov is the greatest living Russian director. His screen portrait of Hirohito is a masterpiece of minimalist elegance. Shot in dusky lighting with grey and green overtones, Sukorov’s aesthetic good taste is unparalleled in contemporary cinema. Emphasis is always perfectly placed. He also manages to infuse the film with lyrical humour and heartbreaking compassion. The Sun has to be one of the most original films set in WWII. Unmissable.