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The Sun


The Sun

Directed by Alexander Sokurov
Drama (2004)
115 mins
Screenplay by Yury Arabov
English-language dialogue by Jeremy Noble

“Some of the finest films in this year's selection [at the Toronto Film Festival 2005] - and possibly of the year - include ... Alexander Sokurov's work "The Sun" NEW YORK TIMES

"...maybe a Sokurov masterpiece..." VILLAGE VOICE

"A fine, fascinating film...a witty, touching, supremely expressive turn by Ogata" TIME OUT

"Remarkable...this daring, disturbing and gripping film...Mesmerising and brilliant" THE GUARDIAN

"Extraordinary" FINANCIAL TIMES

"Measured, wry and touching portrait of the Japanese emperor Hirohito " EMPIRE

"The Sun is a work to be savoured" FILM REVIEW




"After portraying Hitler in MOLOCH, and Lenin in TAURUS, in his latest film, Aleksandr Sokurov turns his attentions to another historical figure - Japanese Emperor Hirohito - who takes a retrospective look at his own life.
Japan in the summer of 1945. On 15 August, millions of Japanese hear the voice of their emperor for the first time. In his address to the nation, he commands his army and his people to cease all fighting.
This announcement enables the Allies to land on Japan's islands without encountering any form of resistance. With his appeal, the Emperor saves the lives of millions of Japanese who were prepared to fight to the death for their emperor and their country; it also saves the lives of thousands of Americans and Chinese, Britons and Russians. In spite of this act, the victorious powers insist that the Emperor appear before a military tribunal.
Commander-in-chief of the American occupying forces in Japan, General Douglas McArthur, advises his own President not to declare Emperor Hirohito a war criminal. This film tells the story of the meetings between these two men. In his memoirs, McArthur wrote that the Emperor was prepared to accept responsibility for the actions of his government and his army - although he was well aware that the consequences for him would be trial and death. "I was shocked," writes McArthur. "He may have been an Emperor by birth, but, at that moment I also realised that, in terms of his mental strength he was a gentleman, the first Japanese gentleman that I had ever met." Shortly afterwards, Emperor Hirohito makes a speech in public in which he renounces his divine descent, becoming instead a "symbol of the state and the unity of the people".
Taking a similar stance, Sokurov's film does not see Hirohito first and foremost as the 124th descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu, but as a human being, deeply affected by the tragedy that besets his country.

From an Interview with Alexander Sokurov

"The Sun" is the third chapter of my film tetralogy and is inextricably linked to its predecessors: "Moloch" and "Taurus". What is it that unites them first of all? The key is the depiction of the hero who suffers a personal tragedy.

We meet Hitler in "Moloch" at the onset of a collapse of his individuality. We see Lenin in "Taurus", strong, violent, not willing to surrender to death, in love with power. Each one of them faces a catastrophe caused by their own decisions and actions. Hitler brings the situation to a senseless tragedy: it is clear that the war is lost but, fulfilling his will, soldiers continue to die. He takes many lives with him to non-existence. And Lenin resists non-existence too - it's as if he casts into the future his dying despair, his intolerance.

It appears that there are different ways out of tragic situations. The Japanese Emperor Hirohito is a symbol of a constructive finale or, more accurately, not a finale but a continuation - of life. It is possible to see with an inner gaze, ruins in a destroyed city, but one can also see dozens of spared buildings - to put it in perspective. For that there is the need of a special human nature.

A small, puny, thin-voiced scientist involved in hydrobiology, Hirohito was the most unlikely tyrant. His palace was burned down during a bombing raid by the Americans and the Emperor lived either in his bunker underground or in the only spared stone building in the palace grounds - the laboratory.

He didn't look like a bloodthirsty god of war at all. 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 MacArthur found a way out of a seemingly impossible situation. This is a lesson - good can be strong and clever.

It is difficult to define and understand power in Japan. Japan is typified by a quiet, indistinct, deep, and repressed power. The Japanese are not Asian people. They are closer to the Englishmen with their island self-consciousness. And they have the same mission, but the peaks and troughs of development are different.

On the face of it, there seems little difference between the worship for the Emperor of Japan or, for example, that of Stalin. Exaltation of the institution of power entered deeply into the consciousness of human society long ago. And it is difficult to imagine what needs to be done today to convince people that the power is not given by God. The Japanese represent a different human world. This total separation gives birth to unique examples of delicacy and grace as well as hard-heartedness.

Hirohito added one more colour to the picture of the world that we are trying to portray, to create. This is a new side of a human character that is impossible to comprehend totally. The character is the element. The character is an inexhaustible artistic object.

I don't make films about dictators, but I make films about those people who are more outstanding than the rest of them. They appeared to be in possession of ultimate power. But human frailty and passion affect their deeds more than the status and circumstances. Human qualities and character are higher than any historical situation - higher and stronger.

Riot fears over Hirohito film
The Times July 29, 2006
From Leo Lewis in Tokyo

POLICE are preparing for potentially violent protests by right-wing extremists when a film portraying the human side of Emperor Hirohito is released next week.

Many academics believe that the film, which supposedly breaks numerous Japanese taboos in its portrayal of the Imperial Family, may represent an important step towards the “normalisation” of Japan and its ability to debate its wartime past. However, scenes that depict Hirohito as weak-willed and suggest that he bore moral responsibility for the Pacific War are likely to enrage Japan’s belligerent and vocal lobby of arch nationalists, who see anything that damages the Emperor’s image as deeply offensive.

The film, Solntse (The Sun), is the critically acclaimed work of the Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov, who has also made films about Hitler and Stalin. It has been around for almost two years but, fearing the kind of violent reaction anticipated by police, Japanese distributors have been reluctant to buy the screening rights. Just two cinemas — one in Tokyo, the other in Nagoya — are scheduled to show Solntse and instances of violence are certain to hamper a wider release.

“People were really worried about the chance of violence from right-wing groups, so companies were fearful of buying the rights,” said Michio Koshikawa, who is distributing Solntse in Japan. “But I think the movie will be a good chance to discuss the whole issue of Emperor Hirohito.”

The film catches Japan at an ideological crossroads, where deeply divisive issues such as the Yasukuni war shrine and school history textbooks are increasingly important in domestic politics. Many believe the country is heading to the Right.

The film’s release on August 6 will coincide with the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. A week later the Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi, may visit the Yasukuni Shrine, which will infuriate China and South Korea, both victims of Japan’s wartime past.

Hirohito, who died in 1989, reigned as Emperor during and after the Second World War. Soldiers fought to the death in the belief that he was divine, but that image was, for most Japanese, shattered by defeat.

Sokurov said in a recent interview that he was interested in Hirohito as a person, and his film reminds viewers that after the war Hirohito was a strong proponent of pacifism.

Right-wing violence has tainted the Japanese political scene for decades and perceived insults to the Imperial Family have long been its flimsy pretext. Last week the business newspaper Nikkei was targeted after it published memos showing that Hirohito had disapproved of the enshrinement of 14 war criminals at Yasukuni.

Russian Nights, Festival of Russian Culture
California, Los Angeles, San Francisco, April 2 - 8, 2006

The upcoming, fifth festival of Russian Culture in the expands its geography this year. Traditionally, it will take place in Los Angeles, while spreading to San Francisco, one of the most beautiful cities in the . It will take place on April 2d to 9th, 2006.
The festival program, covering movie screenings, a fine arts exhibition, and performances by music and theater companies, has been carefully selected in order to appeal to a wider audience in the US, as well as bring in bigger numbers of young people and English-speaking viewers.
The movie program features the most interesting releases of national directors in 2005-2006: a fantasy thriller "Day Watch" (or “Night Watch 2”) by Timur Bekmambetov; a drama "The Sun" by Alexander Sokurov; Andrei Kravchuk's melodramatic fairy tale "The Italian"; tow action films “Piranha Hunting" by Andrei Kavun and "Tanker Tango" by Bakhtiyer Khudoinazarov; a modern drama by Svetlana Proskurina “Remote Access" – participant of the Venice Film Festival program.
Premiere Magazine

New York Film Festival Preview
The East Coast's best fest still growing and glowing in its 43rd year

By Aaron Hillis
September 2005

... Amongst the grand masters from around the world who deserve deep recognition past the framework of these 17 flicker-filled days are Belgium's Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes [who won the illustrious Palme D'or at Cannes with L'Enfant (The Child)], Russia's Aleksandr Sokurov (The Sun), France's Phillippe Garrel (Regular Lovers), Taiwan's Hou Hsiao-hsien (Three Times), and Austria's Michael Haneke — who carries the honor of closing the festival with his exploration of surveillance-video paranoia, Cache (Hidden).

New York Film Festival 2005

Small and selective, the festival offers a snapshot of world cinema trends

Sep 22-28 2005

Of all the country’s major festivals, the New York Film Festival is one of the smallest and most selective. This year, the main program includes a mere 23 films, although there are several sidebars offering shorts and revivals of older films....

Russian director Alexander Sokurov’s “The Sun” follows “Moloch,” about Hitler, and “Taurus,” about Lenin, in his series of films about 20th-century tyrants. This time, Japanese Emperor Hirohito (Issey Ogata), who claimed divine authority, is the subject. It takes place entirely on the day in 1945 when Japan surrendered to the U.S. Molasses-paced, it’s as much an environment as a narrative, filled with dim, cavernous rooms (large sections are so dark they’ll be almost unwatchable on video), distant sirens and appallingly beautiful ruins. Sokurov cuts out most of the political context, focusing on Hirohito’s ritualistic routine, which includes the study of hermit crabs, and then revealing this particular day’s significance. Treating Hirohito very sympathetically, Sokurov has fashioned a hymn to the virtues of humility. Despite the Japanese characters and setting, “The Sun” might be the most Christian film this very Russian and generally conservative director has made.

The 43rd New York Film Festival

September 23 - October 9,2005

Main Program

Good Night, and Good Luck (Opening Night)
Breakfast on Pluto (Centerpiece)
Cache (Hidden) (Closing Night)
Avenge But One of My Two Eyes
The Death of Mr. Lazarescu
L’Enfant (The Child)
I Am
Paradise Now
The President's Last Bang
Regular Lovers
Something Like Happiness
The Squid and the Whale
The Sun
Sympathy for Lady Vengeance
A Tale of Cinema
Three Times
Through the Forest
Tristam Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story
Who's Camus Anyway?
The Passenger

Toronto International Film Festival 2005
8 - 17 September
Official Selection

New York Times

Critic's Notebook

Published: September 15, 2005

TORONTO, Sept. 14 - The closer the 30th Toronto International Film Festival inches toward its Saturday close, the more difficult it becomes to classify this sprawling, exhausting event. With 256 features from 60 different countries in the program - including a whopping 109 world premieres - the festival has become something of an endurance test for attendees.

... Celebrities and name directors predictably grab most of the limelight here, but the festival remains a destination for off-Hollywood too. Some of the finest films in this year's selection - and possibly of the year - include Michael Haneke's "Caché" ("Hidden"), about a French family terrorized by anonymous communiqués, and Alexander Sokurov's work "The Sun," about Emperor Hirohito in the wake of Japan's surrender.

The Independent on Sunday, London

By Demetrios Matheou
Published: 05 September 2005
The Sun (PG)

Earlier this year in the excellent Downfall, we saw Hitler in the last days of his life, prowling around his Berlin. Now Aleksandr Sokurov, who has himself made a film about Hitler (Molokh), turns his attention to another Second World War loser: Japan's Emperor Hirohito, who oversaw his country's terrible destruction before waving the white flag and relinquishing his right to "divine" status.

Hirohito (Issey Ogata) is portrayed as an isolated, lonely, peaceful man, who has from the sidelines had to watch a war conducted in his name, but in which he probably did not believe. We first encounter him in his own bunker, a slave to stifling decorum and others' servility, before rising into bright sunshine to meet with the conquering General MacArthur; Ogata's facial tics suggest nothing less than a fish washed up on the shore, struggling for breath.

Sokurov's camerawork mirrors the psychological traumas of its protagonist, dimly shot in the bunker, bleached out above ground. As with all of the Russian's films, this demands patience and intense concentration; the effort is worthwhile, since the portrait that emerges - of a man brought back down to earth, in every sense - is fascinating and hugely compassionate.

The Guardian
September 3 2005

Fifty Must-See Shows for the Autumn

1 Last Days
Gus Van Sant's latest film is an almost wordless portrait of an all but catatonic rock musician, clearly based on Kurt Cobain. Michael Pitt plays the mumbling megastar, roaming around his mansion like a wounded animal. Rivetingly atmospheric, Last Days is a masterclass in how to make a film in which nothing much happens. Out September 2.

2 Reina Sofia Museum extension, Madrid
A sweeping, blade-like roof covers this triangular extension to one of Madrid's great art museums. Jean Nouvel's steel and glass extension, six years in the making, will add 55% extra floor space to the existing building, plus a tree-filled atrium, library and conference halls. Opens September.

3 The Sun
A mesmerising and brilliant - if determinedly mad - chamber piece from Russia's Alexander Sokurov. It is a portrait of Emperor Hirohito in the days after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, humiliatingly summoned to make an account of himself to Gen Douglas MacArthur. Out September 2.
Ann Lee 01 September 05

Staring at The Sun.

After Hitler and Lenin, Russian director Alexander Sokurov turns his beady eye on Emperor Hirohito in the third segment of his four-part series looking at 20th century dictators. Realising he was on to a loser with World War II the Japanese leader, who was regarded as a deity by his people, decided to renounce his divine status and publicly called for all fighting to stop. By focusing with unnerving claustrophobia on the minute details of his daily life, The Sun attempts to humanise this controversial figure. But it fails to show the full impact of Hirohito's actions on his country, making such a momentous occasion feel strangely muted. Strictly one for history buffs only.
Tom Dawson 01 September 2005

An intimate portrait of the Japanese Emperor Hirohito as he prepares to surrender to the US. From Russian Ark director Aleksandr Sokurov

"I don't make films about dictators, but I make films about those people who are more outstanding than the rest of them." That's how director Aleksandr Sokurov has described his 'Men of Power' film series. Having examined Hitler's relationship with Eva Braun in Molokh, (Moloch, 1999), and focused on a dying Lenin in Telets (Taurus, 2001), here the director turns his attention to another 20th-century ruler, Japan's Emperor Hirohito.

Released to coincide with the 60th anniversary of VJ Day, The Sun is set in a ruined Tokyo in the summer of 1945, with the central character (Ogata) initially confined to a bunker in his bomb-damaged imperial palace. He's summoned for questioning by the leader of the American invading forces, General Douglas MacArthur (Dawson), and comes to realise that, to save his people from further destruction, he will have to renounce his own divine status.

Hirohito emerges as figure of intriguing contrasts - he's treated as a deity by his subjects, yet he's also a married family man, keen poet and enthusiastic scientist. He's also a military leader who can't use a door handle. In lengthy sequences, Sokurov presents us with the routines of his daily existence, where he is waited on by devoted retainers, before revealing to the viewer the devastation wreaked on the capital. (Sadly absent is any discussion of Hirohito's complicity with Japanese war crimes.)

Sedately photographed by Sokurov in a sombre colour palette, The Sun mainly restricts itself to interior settings which emphasise its subject's confinement. However, the most striking visual sequence is one of the emperor's nightmares, in which he envisages giant fish flying through the air over a burning city. And thanks to Ogata's impressive performance, the diminutive and introverted Hirohito - with his nervous tics and striking physical resemblance to Charlie Chaplin - comes across as both a child-like innocent and an intelligent man of decency and pragmatism.

More accessible than Sokurov's previous historical character studies, this a finely crafted film which holds out the possibility of reconciliation between both individuals and nations.

Edinburgh International Film Festival 2005

17 - 28 August 2005


The final instalment in the Russian master's Great Leaders trilogy. From the maker of Russian Ark.

Having tackled Hitler (Moloch, EIFF 2001) and Lenin (Taurus), Sokurov turns his attention to Japanese emperor Hirohito, seen here at the end of WWII, preparing for surrender to General MacArthur. Like those films, it is a portrait of a powerful, if vilified historical figure in decline, but this is lighter, more playful: evincing the director's unique visual style, it's delicately observed and - astonishingly, for a Sokurov film - occasionally very funny. From scenes of gentle, almost elegaic comedy, as the fallen emperor clowns for military journalists' cameras, to a stunning dream sequence showing a city's destruction by fire-bombing, this is an utterly singular experience.

Yerevan International Film Festival 2005

July 12-17.

SOLNTSE | THE SUN by Aleksandr Sokurov was awarded the Golden Apricot (Grand Prize) for Best Feature Film. The International section's jury was headed by Atom Egoyan (Canada), with Deborah Young (Italy), Simon Field (Britain), Eduardo Antin (Argentina), and Jos Stelling (The Netherlands). Complete list of prize winners at the festival website [Yerevan International Film Festival]
Karlovy Vary International Film Festival
July 1 through 9 2005

by Dennis Lim, Village Voice, New York

KARLOVY VARY, CZECH REPUBLIC-Most of the year, the oldest spa town in Bohemia, nestled in a picturesque valley 80 miles west of Prague, attracts busloads of senior citizens who come to sip and bathe in the curative mineral waters. In early July, however, beer and Becherovka (the allegedly medicinal local liqueur) flow even more freely than the sulfurous hot springs, and Karlovy Vary takes on the atmosphere of an open-air youth hostel, as backpacking movie fans descend on the most accessible of world-class film festivals. Tickets are inexpensive ($2.50 apiece), standby admission is free, and the program typically imports many titles that premiered on the Croisette a mere month ago. This year, nearly half the Cannes competition was accounted for, along with Berlin must-sees like Alexander Sokurov's Hirohito meditation The Sun and Tsai Ming-liang's artcore provocation The Wayward Cloud.

Turning 40 this month (59 years after it was first held, the discrepancy a legacy of a Communist-era mandate to alternate with the Moscow Film Festival), the KVIFF supplemented a big-tent program (which included a survey of recent Canadian cinema and a Liv Ullmann retro) with red-carpet glitz. This edition's headliners: Robert Redford, secured with the help of Czech-born Madeleine Albright, and Sharon Stone, who made a show of getting down with the people, declaring that "Czechoslovakia [sic] has for me great and profound meaning because of your Velvet Revolution." Unavoidably for a festival sandwiched between Cannes and Venice, Karlovy Vary's competitive section offers fewer discoveries than curios. High points this year: Lost Domain, a minor but pleasurable Raul Ruiz M strip; Ali Mosaffa's Portrait of a Lady Faraway, an Iranian After Hours that detours into Tehran's contemporary art underworld; and Japanese director Sion Sono's Noriko's Dinner Table, an eerie elaboration of his cult hit Suicide Club. The jury awarded the top prize to Krzysztof Krauze's My Nikifor, a portrait of a Polish outsider artist, conventional in all respects except the casting of an 85-year-old actress (Krystyna Feldman) as the male title character.

In the "East of the West" Central and Eastern European showcase, a focal point for the assembled journalists and programmers, the winner was also a safe one: Ragin, an adaptation of Chekhov's loony-bin short story "Ward 6." More convincingly unhinged were the nightmare nuptials in the manic Polish farce The Wedding, though based on Slovenia's trio of entries, Ljubljana is the emerging Euro capital of family dysfunction (best of the lot: the excitable backstage melodrama The Ruins). Slovak director Martin Sulik's The City of the Sun tackles a fraught subject-post-'89 economic upheaval-within the familiar confines of the unemployment ensemble dramedy (Full Monty, Mondays in the Sun). More poignant and considerably funnier, Petr Zelenka's Wrong Side Up details the sadsack frustrations of a forklift operator at the Prague airport. The most resonant political statements could be found in Gauder's scattershot animation District, billed as "a post-Communist South Park" and set in a run-down, multiracial section of the Hungarian capital, where the street kids strike oil beneath the cobblestones. The 'hood avoids annihilation only because Bush confuses Budapest with Bucharest.

Village Voice, New York

Berlin Film Festival
February 22nd, 2005 4:15 PM

by Mark Peranson,

In a Year of 13 Lakes, Gay Nazis, minimalist experiments, and maybe a Sokurov masterpiece at the Berlin Festival

BERLIN, GERMANY- Only an ubermensch could enter the Berlin Film Festival and come out with sanity intact. With over a thousand screenings all over town, and crowds more overwhelming each year, the Berlinale promises riches or, depending on one's path through the three main sections, raspberries. The competition is often seductive but underwhelming, with big-name Yankees and their compound titles (e.g., Die Tiefseetaucher mit Steve Zissou) alongside divisive works from Euro-auteurs like Andre Techine and native son Christian Petzold; the Forum is the most challenging but has the films most likely to implode, and in the Panorama, one finds gays, Nazis, and a special 2005 bonus from Rosa von Praunheim, Heroes and Gay Nazis.

More than any other major festival, Berlin's competition is characterized by a predominance of the cinema of quality and a daily helping of Europudding. Both genres are indicative of EU financing trends: As central governments get weaker, so does arts funding. Set on the day of the Champions League football final in Russia, Turkey, Spain, and Germany, the "comedic" One Day in Europe casts Europe's future as uninspired remakes of Night on Earth. A late addition after the collapse of a deal to import Glenn Close to represent the Merchant Ivory production Heights, the Hungarian concentration camp film Fateless is the kind of old-fashioned co-production the film world salivates over: a three-month shoot with a big budget, thousands of extras, and an Ennio Morricone score. Precisely adapted by Nobel laureate Imre Kertesz from his autobiographical novel, cinematographer Lajos Koltai's directorial debut might be made to win awards, but it refuses compromise, aestheticizing the camp experience in a more provocative manner than Schindler's List. The film proceeds through young Gyuri's time in Buchenwald in a poetic accumulation of random events of hell and kindness, reserving its greatest kick for his journey home to Budapest.

Another trend seemed to be rehabilitation, with three films sympathetically portraying controversial figures in their final stages. In The Last Mitterrand, Marseilles lefty Robert Guediguian ditches his usual actors for Michel Bouquet, who relishes puttering about as the late French president; the main argument is that Mitterrand at his height was better than what France has now. Bouquet gamely delivers Mitterrand's soliloquies to his biographer, a stiff Jalil Lespert. Hany Abu-Assad's Palestinian suicide bombers in Paradise Now might be nameless in comparison but are no less concerned with their world-historical importance. This handsome film courts controversy, but wavers behind Abu-Assad's desire to present his subject in thriller form and elucidate the motivations of the bombers, who become the director's mouthpieces.

A late highlight was Alexander Sokurov's The Sun, the apex of his dictator trilogy. Maybe a masterpiece, it depicts Emperor Hirohito (a brilliant Issey Ogata) as he struggles-in often dim interiors shot by Sokurov-with the end of the war and his status; fantastic aesthetic flourishes capture Hirohito's monumental decision to renounce his divinity. Ogata's mannered performance as the meek emperor-seen struggling with his dedicated staff, who insist on maintaining decorum, and in conversation with MacArthur-is nakedly humanizing. Sokurov finds in Hirohito a leader in whom he invests all human qualities. Unlike Hitler and Lenin, the subjects of Sokurov's Moloch and Taurus, he's a legitimate hero, whose willingness to sacrifice his pride for saving lives is a rare example of graceful leadership.

Sokurov may be hit or miss ...

The Daily Telegraph, London

'My films are about people, not dictators'
(Filed: 18/02/2005)

Aleksandr Sokurov's subjects include Hitler and Lenin. Now the director of 'Russian Ark' has tackled the living god Hirohito. On-set report by Nick Holdsworth

The bunker is dark and dank, the bare concrete walls a grey-green under the dim light cast by the weak bulbs dotted at intervals along the heavy steel panelled ceiling. Telegraph wires, stretched taut between porcelain terminals, share the walls with bundles of other cords, adding to the sense of claustrophobia.

Sokurov: 'The Sun is about when a man sits in front of a mirror and stares into his soul'
So it comes as a shock to turn a corner and enter another world: a brightly lit, pleasant, mahogany-panelled room equipped with the sort of antique furniture normally reserved for palaces. Closer inspection of an elaborately carved, silk-covered bed and a small table set with bone-china breakfast service suggests Japan.

Aleksandr Sokurov, the Russian director famed in Britain for his hauntingly beautiful story of imperial Russia, Russian Ark - shot in one magnificent take in St Petersburg's Winter Palace - steps over from behind a tangle of lighting stands to break the spell.

We are in St Petersburg's Lenfilm Studios and the bunker, its genuine antique contents and warren of narrow tunnels are the set for his new film The Sun, about the lowest point in the life of Japanese emperor Hirohito in 1945, when he faced the prospect of execution for war crimes.

Sokurov explains that the set is a meticulous reconstruction of the bunker Hirohito built deep beneath the imperial palace in Tokyo after American bombers destroyed his cherished marine biology laboratories above ground in 1943. Sokurov is reticent about the sources on which he has based the reconstruction of the emperor's bunker, alluding only to "old and trusted friends" in Tokyo with access to archives and information not generally available.

Such was General Douglas MacArthur's respect for the mystique and power of centuries of imperial history that he never stepped foot in the grounds - or beneath the grounds - of the emperor's palace and, apart from the photographs shot by American newsmen in 1945 and 1946, there are virtually no images of the bunker available in the West, says Sokurov.

He is sensitive about photographs on set and only relents to a few close-ups after some gentle pressure, but his alarm is understandable: Hirohito's power and aura remains a vivid force in Japan today, and Right-wing extremists take unkindly to those they consider disrespectful to the emperor's memory.

"The far Right in Japan are known for threatening anyone who publicly criticises Hirohito. It's for this reason that we did not make public the names of the Japanese members of the film's cast until it was ready for release, although I think, since our film is absolutely historically correct, it would not have evinced such a reaction," Sokurov says.

A psychological drama, The Sun is the third in a planned four-part "symphony of films" probing the depth and shallows of man's fascination with power and evil, and is, Sokurov says, the first feature film devoted to the life of Hirohito.

The film, starring American actor Richard Dawson as MacArthur, focuses on the relationship between Hirohito and the American general, and the way in which they are influenced by each other's character and spirit. The abuse of power, as well as the ability of men of wisdom to use power for good, not evil, are central concerns.

Sokurov on his film: 'When people wield immense power, at some point, they decide they are not bound by morality'
Unlike Sokurov's earlier studies of evil in crisis - Molokh, his 1999 meditation on the all-consuming destructive nature of Adolf Hitler, and Taurus, his 2001 film of the final moments of Lenin, The Sun is a study of the defeated war leader who got away. Uniquely for a totalitarian leader - and, Sokurov says, uniquely in the history of defeated nations - Hirohito continued to lead and inspire his people in an undivided nation following catastrophic defeat in war.

The man who was known as a living god and called Tenno ("heavenly sovereign") by his devoted people, whose voice they heard for the first time ever on national radio on August 15, 1945, when Hirohito called on them to give up the struggle after the Americans had dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, continued to reign over Japan until his death in 1989.

That Hirohito agreed to renounce his divinity, declare his mortality and remake himself in the image of a pro-Western democrat is well known. But what went through Hirohito's mind as he faced the final consequences of Japan's 14 years of offensive war remains mysterious. This is Sokurov's subject, and is, on past performance, what is likely to make The Sun compulsive viewing.

"I'm not interested in making judgments," Sokurov says as we leave the bunker and emerge into the bright sunlight of an unkempt yard.

"My purpose is to delve into the characters of the people involved in the story. These are not films about dictators, but about people - about people at that moment in their lives when there are no longer any advisors around them and the only advice they can and must take is that of their own character. The Sun is about that moment when a man sits in front of a mirror and stares into his own soul. This is not a historical film - it is present continuous tense; 1945 is with us today and will always be with us. "

He has seen for himself the corrosive effects of power on character: he knew Boris Yeltsin as a friend before he became Russia's first post-Soviet president and saw what it did to him.

"Power is a human condition," says Sokurov. "Power does not come from God - it is people who give power to others. When people wield immense power, for some reason, at some point, they decide they are not bound by morality. Without morals, power corrupts."

The Sun was shown at the Berlin film festival this week (see festival review) and will be released in the UK later in the year. No definite plans have yet been made for a Tokyo screening, the producers say.

Engaged as he is with Hirohito and 1945, Sokurov is already thinking about the concluding chapter in his four studies of power and evil: a multi-cultural, multi-lingual extravaganza set in Vienna based around Goethe's Faust and Thomas Mann's Doctor Faustus.

"Everything will become clear in Faust," says Sokurov, adding, with soft, enigmatic emphasis: "All the themes of the earlier films will find their dramatic conclusion here, with all the heroes and new heroes finding and facing new challenges."

Family affairs
At the Berlin film festival, it was intimate dramas that caught the jury's eye. Peter Bradshaw reports
Peter Bradshaw
Monday February 21, 2005

… Given that we are commemorating 60 years since the horrors of the Holocaust were discovered, journalists in Berlin had thought the Golden Bear would go to one of the sombrely themed movies in competition. Lajos Koltai's Fateless was a moving story of Hungarian Jews deported to the camps from occupied Budapest, and two movies about the Rwandan nightmare - Hotel Rwanda and Sometimes in April - were respectfully received. But the winner on this theme was Sophie Scholl: The Last Days, which picked up the best director and best actress awards respectively for Marc Rothemund and Julia Jentsch as Scholl, the young woman executed for defying the Nazis by distributing rebellious leaflets.
… For me, the big disappointment is that nothing went to the remarkable, strange film from the Russian master Aleksandr Sokurov, who returns to form with The Sun, his claustrophobic chamber piece about Emperor Hirohito in the last days of the second world war. The film is shot in gloom for the interiors and a bleached-out blankness for the outside scenes, as if the shock of defeat and nuclear catastrophe has leached all the colour and natural light from the world. It's a shame the Berlin jury could not have found a way to honour this daring, disturbing and gripping film.

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005
Posted: Fri., Feb. 18, 2005, 6:08pm PT

by Leslie Felperin

The Sun

A Nikola-Film, Proline-Film (Russia), Downtown Pictures (Italy), MACT Prods. (France), Riforma Film production (Switzerland), in association with RAI Cinema, Istituto Luce, with the participation of CTC Television Network, Lenfilm Studio, with the support of Federal Agency for Culture and Cinematography of Russian Federation, CNC. (International sales: The Works, London.) Produced by Igor Kalenov, Andrey Sigle, Marco Mueller. Co-producers, Alexander Rodnyansky, Andrey Zertsalov, Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre. Directed by Alexander Sokurov. Screenplay, Yury Arabov.

Emperor - Issey Ogata
General MacArthur - Robert Dawson
Empress - Kaori Momoi
Chamberlain - Shiro Sano
Old Servant - Shinmei Tsuji
Director of the Institute - Taijiro Tamura
Adjutant of General - Georgy Pitskhelauri

After examining Hitler in "Moloch" and a stroke-addled Lenin in "Taurus," Alexander Sokurov's "The Sun" completes the helmer's dictator trilogy on an up note with Emperor Hirohito surrendering at the end of World War II. Although not as crowd-pleasing as Sokurov's 2002 hit "Russian Ark," at least "The Sun" isn't as rebarbative as his last, "Father and Son." It even packs in a few stylized special effects and has some outright funny moments, a pleasant surprise from a helmer hardly known for laffs. Still, box office forecast predicts heavy weather for "The Sun," with warmer climes in sell-through.
Like the other two parts of the "tetralogy," as Sokurov calls it, main protag in "The Sun" is a head of state normally vilified by history, introduced just as power is slipping away from him. But Sokurov's Hirohito (Issey Ogata) is a not an unsympathetic character, perhaps the most likeable out of the three films. Indeed, whereas "Moloch" depicted a Hitler deranged by obsessions, and "Taurus" a Lenin near senility, Hirohito here is not only in full command of his faculties, but shapes his own destiny, choosing a path -- surrender -- that will spare his subjects further suffering. Ironically, he can achieve this aim only by renouncing his status as a divine being, but this seems a relief for a man weary with divinity and the rigmarole of being head of state.

Narrative begins days before the official end of WWII, with Hirohito being awakened for the day by his retainers in the laboratory building to which he's retreated after the destruction of the imperial palace.

His chamberlain (Shiro Sano) goes over his schedule with him: Meet with his generals at 10 a.m., study marine biology at 12 p.m., rest to think deep thoughts at 4 p.m., and so on. Hirohito realistically asks how the schedule will be revised if the allies land in Japan that day, and the chamberlain insists that could only happen if there were no Japanese left alive. Perhaps, the emperor suggests, showing a dry sense of humor, he's the last Japanese left already.

Sure enough, General MacArthur (Robert Dawson) marches into Tokyo and sends for Hirohito to discuss peace terms. American soldiers treat him rudely, hustling him into a car and making him open doors himself. A Japanese interpreter for the general (Georgy Pitskhelauri) vainly tries to shield the emperor from MacArthur's brusque treatment but Hirohito takes it all in his stride. Later, Hirohito clowns for the military journalists' cameras, winning from them the affectionate nickname "Charlie" (for his resemblance to Charlie Chaplin).

Thesp Ogata and Sokurov stress Hirohito's peculiar combo of near-childish innocence and pragmatism. On the one hand, he's seen summoning the director of a scientific institute (Taijiro Tamura) to his lab to discuss whether it's possible to see the northern lights in Japan, and then gives the baffled man a bar of Hershey's chocolate, part of a gift from MacArthur. But he also wakes up in a sweat from a striking, heat-hazed dream showing a city's fiery destruction (an atypical use of special effects by Sokurov, that nevertheless looks a little like a scene from a Godzilla movie as directed by Russian animator Yuri Norstein).

As usual, Sokurov's unhurried pacing will test the patience of more fidgety viewers, although the script is more accessible than some of his recent efforts. Kudos also to established thesp Ogata ("Yi yi: A One and a Two") who brings genuine warmth and decency to the lead role as well as an impish wit. Perfs by the English-speaking cast members remain a little less convincing.

Lensing the pic himself, Sokurov bathes the action in a typical greenish tinge which reaches an almost inky pitch in some of the early interiors.

Where "Moloch" and "Taurus" were both acted in Russian, thesps here seem to be speaking only Japanese or English, albeit post-synched with precision. For the record, title on print caught was simply "The Sun," in English.

Camera (color), Sokurov; editor, Sergey Ivanov; music, Andrey Sigle; production designer, Yury Kuper; art director, Elena Zhukova; costume designer, Lidia Krukova; sound (Dolby Digital), Sergey Moshkov. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (competing), Feb. 17, 2005. Running time: 110 MIN.
February 18, 2005
Marie-Francia Dupagne

Berlinale 2005 - Competition
The blue halo of Hirohito
In Solnze (The Sun), Aleksandr Sokurov - a frequent guest in Berlin- keeps exploring his gallery of historical characters looking back on their lives as they grow old. In 1999, Moloch depicted Hitler and in 2000, Taurus dealt with Lenin. The final part of the trilogy, Solnze, is about the Japanese emperor Hirohito.
In August 1945, after the emperor launched an appeal for his army and people to capitulate, the American troups-led by General Douglas McArthur - settled in the Japanese islands. The emperor took all responsability for his government's decision, and was taken to a military court. Later on, he renounced his 'divine origins' before his people. The film goes beyond official proceedings and shows the human aspects of these events, as, for instance, the meeting between the American general (Robert Dawson) and the Japanese emperor (Issey Ogata). "My films are not about dictators, Sokurov points out, they depict exceptional people who have in their hands considerable power, and the opportunity to notice that humanity is stronger than this".

Sokurov, who decided to handle picture direction himself, confirms the talent he has always shown as a real/reel painter. The images in his film are not only beautiful but they also show complete technical mastery up to the smallest detail. Sokurov uses his favourite colours, grey and blue, in all their variations, for a light veil of fog surrounds them, creating a magic halo around his characters. By alternating official ceremonies and private meetings, Sokurov disrupts excessive solemnity, as Chaplin used to do. By showing both tragic moments and amusing situations, the director explores all the sides of his character like a complex prism.
Four countries were involved in the production of Solnze. Indeed, the film was produced by Nikola Film (Russia), Proline Film (Russia), Downtown Pictures (Italy), Mact Productions (France), and Riforma Film (Switzerland). International sales are managed by the English company The Works .

© 2005 Jeremy Noble