New Internationalist

The Sun

Issue 383

by Alexander Sokurov

Tokyo is in ruins, destroyed by American bombing. Inside his bunker, Emperor Hirohito writes poetry in elegant calligraphy and studies crustaceans in his laboratory. He records a speech, commanding the Japanese to stop fighting and renouncing his divine status as the 124th descendant of the Sun Goddess. The radio engineer disembowels himself, but the surrender probably saves millions of lives.

The Sun brilliantly presents Hirohito’s descent from the heavens – learning, for example, how to open a door. Issey Ogata is a wonderful Hirohito, taking great pleasure in simple things.
He’s ungainly, unassuming, seems a nice ordinary fellow.

But was he? The historical Hirohito, to obtain better peace terms, actually urged the Japanese military to step up efforts throughout 1945. Through his public ancestor worship, he continued implicitly to assert his divinity. His prime minister, Tojo, was executed for war crimes. Sokurov, director of Russian Ark, is probably contemporary cinema’s most original stylist. But his aesthetic individualism is either naïve, astonishingly arrogant, or dishonest.

Malcolm Lewis

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