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The Independent Critic

Issei Ogata, Robert Dawson, Kaori Momoi
Aleksandr Sokurov
Yuri Arabov
Rated PG
110 Mins.
Lorber HT Digital
 "The Sun" Review 
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"Solntse" or "The Sun," Is director Aleksandr Sokurov's final film in a trilogy examining the last days of those individuals who were deemed to have absolute power. The first two films, "Moloch" and "Taurus," examined the lives of both Lenin and Hitler. This final film examins the life of Japanese Emperor Hirohito as World War II is in its final hours. The film includes his infamous meetings with both Eisenhower and General MacArthur.

In Japan it is considered taboo to portray an Emperor onscreen. For just such a reason, the identity of the actor portraying Hirohito (Issei Ogata) to assure his safety. While one can certainly understand a nation's reverence towards its leaders, it is hard to imagine a nation or its peoples being offended by a work of such tremendous grace, dignity and power.

Issei Ogata's performance as Hirohito is the essential ingredient in the hypnotic impact of "The Sun." The film is, most definitely, not for an average moviegoer. "The Sun" is an immensely slow, intensely visual, and almost painstakingly intellectual portrayal of a man who lived his entire life as a God in Japan only to renounce himself as a deity upon Japan's surrender at the end of World War Two.

Ogata's performance is irritating, almost painfully so. Yet, from nearly all historical accounts of Emperor Hirohito, Ogata's performance is precise, exact and accurate in its portrayal of Hirohito's decline.

Hirohito, as played by Ogata, lived in a cocoon. An extremely intelligent man, he was a man who struggled with even the most basic daily tasks of opening a door or dressing himself. These are tasks that a deity need not do himself, however, as Hirohito must renounce his status as a deity to save his nation and himself, even he becomes aware that these menial tasks are now his own.

Sokurov is certainly known as an avant-garde, experimental director. His most famous work in America is the fairly recent "Russian Ark," his intensely beautiful 80-minute, single shot film exploring Russia's Hermitage. Sokurov's gift for treating every visual image as if it is the center of the universe is both hypnotic and, on occasion, distracting. Sokurov doesn't just show the audience Hirohito having his shirt buttoned by his faithful servants...he lingers on it. He shows us the sweat on the forehead of the servants, the trembling hands, the buttonholes that are seemingly too small and, yet, the simple determination of the servant to succeed.

"The Sun" is filled with moments upon moments just like this one...moments that are hypnotically powerful and small moments that quietly redefine a man whose entire life and empire is changing before his eyes.

Sokurov is somewhat less successful in portraying the Americans in the "The Sun," most notably MacArthur (Robert Dawson) and Eisenhower. Whereas Sokurov portrays Hirohito, his servants, and even the American interpreter with tremendous detail and dignity, MacArthur and Eisenhower are presented slightly more caricaturish in nature. While it is quite believable that the Americans would approach Hirohito with an incredible disrespect, the soldiers are more portrayed as comical buffoons in their initial reactions to Hirohito's country residence. MacArthur and Eisenhower's dialogue, while historically accurate, is accompanied by a costume design that makes both American leaders appear too cartoonish to effectively blend with the dignity and aura of the rest of "The Sun."

That's not to say that there aren't moments of quiet humor in "The Sun." Indeed, there are. One, in particular, involves a box of Hershey's chocolates. Watching Hirohito and his aides respond to this unexpected gift is sweetly funny.

"The Sun" is a brilliant film because it presents, with amazing detail, the final hours of Hirohito's presence as a deity in the lives of his Japanese people. Through the remarkable performance of Issei Ogata, Hirohito is seen as a man of tremendous intellect, subtle humanity, and a national pride that even Hirohito acknowledges may have been his and his nation's greatest downfall.

While "The Sun" is, most definitely, not a film everyone will embrace, it is a film that history loves will embrace, cinematographers will devour, and connoisseurs of film will want to see, experience and debate.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic