Archive for December, 2011


Kim Jong-il is a goner

This wouldn’t be a blog on Korea if it didn’t have a post of the big news. However, I’m at work so my own thoughts on this will have to wait until later….

So from my own ramblings around the internet today  it seems that there are two critical concerns in light of Kim Jong-il’s death. The first is the security concerns and political instability that could ensue with the succession of a man as young and inexperienced as Kim Jong-un. Although, being a tyrant is more a learn by doing job, I imagine. By some accounts though he is already a ruthless bastard ready to take the helm of his father. I’m not really sure I’ve got enough information to make my own wild speculative prediction on either the chances that the succession will go smoothly or whether Kim the younger is a madman in the same vein as his father and grandfather or not.

The other, more important, concern has been in regards to the future of the Kim Jong-il looking at things blog. At one point tweeters were more concerned on this than other matters relating to the news of Kim’s death. But fortunately the good news came through that the Kim Jong-un looking at things blog was now up and running. A smooth transition of power. Also good to note that part of Kim Jong-un’s training for the succession has included practice at looking at things – an integral part of his job.

Some of the comments coming out from the international community have focused on the need for peace in a time of uncertainty. Hugo Chavez has sent a message of condolences. Human Rights Watch focused on the legacy of mass atrocities left by Kim Jong-il. Amnesty International hopes that, “the new government will step away from the horrific, failed policies of the past” but says it has reports that purges have already begun.




Solntse/The Sun

The BFI is currently featuring a directorspective of Aleksandr Sokurov, a Russian film director. I am pretty much ignorant of Sokurov’s work but he is described as a spiritual voice of Russian film. He is famous for several movies, it seems, including Russian Ark and other films depicting St Petersburg. But what interested me in Sokurov was a tetralogy known as the “Men of Power” series, which he has recently done looking at “three individuals who have wielded extraordinary destructive authority during the 20th Century: Lenin (Taurus), Hitler (Moloch), and Hirohito (Solntse). The fourth film is about Faust, “the mythical forerunner” of these later men. Sokurov won the Golden Lion Award at Venice this year for Faust. But  I was interested in the third of these movies, a movie called The Sun (Solntse) looking at the Emperor Hirohito.

Made in 2004, this movie covers a couple of days around the time when Japan surrenders and the Emperor goes to meet General MacArthur. As the film review by JG Ballad notes:

The Sun resembles a dreamlike newsreel filmed by a secret camera deep in the emperor’s bunker. We see Hirohito waited on by his cringing retainers, who dress and feed him as if he were a handicapped child, which in effect he was. As he waits for them to button his shirt, or murmurs to his marine biology specimens in his private laboratory, he resembles a royal figure rather closer to home: well-meaning, babied by his wife and utterly disengaged from reality

This movie doesn’t really seek to deal with the argument about the extent to which we think Hirohito was a guileless puppet at the mercy of military leaders or whether he was complicit and enthusiastic about the war. He is a rather sympathetic character in that he appears so child-like and human but at the same time he does not appear to be without an understanding of the war and his role. The movie does lean toward  the ‘guileless puppet’ image more so than the other image but mostly it doesn’t bother to delve into that debate.

But the most important part of this film is the depiction of the bombing of Tokyo; Hirohito’s nightmare vision. Julian Graffy describes it as:

…a stunning vision of apocalypse unlike almost anything Sokurov has shot…The emperor imagines Tokyo as an infernal landscape of burning, bombed-out buildings being raided by gross and terrifying creatures of the deep.

It is indeed stunning to see the camera swoop over the burning landscape. Bomber planes fly into the view of the screen and then morph into birds and then sea monsters. Bombs that drop and swim away like fish to cause havoc as the air ripples and turns into an underwater scene. Below the bombs explode in short bursts of flames that merge into an already burning city. As the viewer you feel like you are flying around above watching it all. It was amazing.

Sokurov has done other works looking at Japan, including Oriental Elegy and A Humble Life. Both of which I didn’t get time to see but looked quite interesting and are more documentary, not movies..

December 2011
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