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..


2 Responses to “Solntse/The Sun”

  1. December 12, 2011 at 3:28 pm

    Interesting commentary! I may have to check these films out. A lot of visionary work seems to be coming out of Russia. You, meanwhile, seem to be writing a lot on movies these days. Have you seen those “1001 Movies” blogs? They’re mainly written by people who are making their way through the “whatever-th” edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die. I know you’re busy and probably don’t have time to do that, but you might find those bloggers’ thoughts interesting, if you’re a movie-lover. A buddy of mine has his own “1001” blog:


    Hope all’s well!

    • 2 sojuandsake
      December 20, 2011 at 9:19 am

      Hi Kevin, I think the movie trend is more a coincidence than a determined effort on my part to watch certain movies. But I do like movies and I checked out your friends blog – I had seen a few of the movies mentioned, including Monster, which I thought was a pretty interesting film with some good special effects.

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