Five years later, ‘The Sun’ also rises 

The scene in director Alexander Sokurov’s film “The Sun” when the emperor of Japan hesitates in front of a door, trying to figure out how to open it, will stay with viewers. It’s strange, funny, poignant and infuriating at the same time.

The descendant of the Japanese sun goddess Amaterasu, the divine ruler in whose name millions died, for the first time in his 44 years doesn’t have servants opening doors for him, dressing him or treating him both as a god and a helpless infant.

He is out in the real world, on his own. More to the point, it is a bombed-out, ruined world, arguably of his own making.

Watching Hirohito’s quandary at the door is Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who wants to punish the war criminal he considers similar to Hitler, and use him to decrease occupied Japan’s resistance.

Arriving in the U.S. five years after its release in Europe, “The Sun” is a stunning film — fascinating to some, probably sleep-inducing to others.

It’s been called “maddeningly meditative” and “a vision of life shrouded in dust and cobwebs,” but also — and I agree — “a unique and strangely mesmerizing film.”

The scene with MacArthur is part of about a half-hour of “action.”

The rest of the nearly two-hour film is a close-up of Hirohito, in his claustrophobic, solitary life. The camera (also Sokurov’s work) faces the man, following him through long minutes of “nothing happening.”

Issei Ogata is brilliant as Hirohito, a man who is childlike, clueless in many ways, but also a poet, a scientist (marine biology was his hobby), a husband and father. He sees Japan’s defeat clearly, but cannot allow himself to admit it, for a mind-boggling variety of reasons.

He is difficult to understand, impossible to relate to.

There are problems with “The Sun,” including scenes with obviously amateur actors playing GIs — could they have been American students recruited in Moscow? — and Robert Dawson’s MacArthur may not be to everybody’s liking.

Still, the film is impressive. It’s the third in a “men of power” series by Sokurov. “Moloch” (1999) is about Hitler and “Taurus” (2000) about Lenin. Although originally planned as a trilogy, a fourth film, “Faust,” is in the making, about the corrupting effects of power in the Czech Republic.


Movie review
The Sun

Three stars

Starring Issei Ogata, Robert Dawson, Kaori Momoi
Written by Yuri Arabov
Directed by Alexander Sokurov
Not rated
Running time
1 hour 50 minutes

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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