28 May 2008

THE SUN (Dir. Alexander Soukrov, 2005, Russia) - A revisionist look at Emperor Hirohito

Alexander Soukrov, is recognised as the most important contemporary Russian film maker working today, and though his work is virtually unrecognised in his home country, he like many other reputable auteur's have attracted a wide following on the festival circuits. Soukrov's biographical snapshot of the Japanese emperor, Hirohito is the 3rd part of his study of power - he has tended to focus on world leaders who have been historically influential in how they have helped to shape the attitudes of today's society especially towards political ideology in the aftermath of war.

Apparently, Soukrov spent ten years visiting Japan in preparation for this undertaking and such dedicated research and grasp of the subject matter comes through in his intimate and considerate examination of Hirohito, the man. Soukrov's personal fascination with Hirohito has little to do with his position as a political figure and this is why he opts to concentrate on the human aspects, emerging the spectator into his ambiguous relationship with his mother and his nerdy love of Marine Biology as an obscure hobby.

At times the pace is deadening and Soukrov's expert manipulation of temporal dimensions effectively conveys the paralysis that took hold of Hirohito as the war was coming to an end and Japan realised that they could do nothing but surrender. Hirohito's every pregnant pause and hesitant gesture is painstakingly captured in the use of excruciating and gruelling long takes that unfold in a claustrophobic and anemic mise en scene. The religious pledge and defiant preoccupation with the rules and rituals of internal protocol is played out by Hirohito's docile servants with a level of over commitment and slavish perversion, symbolising the inner moral decay of a Japanese empire which was totally out of step with the people.

One of the most poignant and graceful sequences in the film is when General McArthur and Emperor Hirohito meet for the first time. What is so intriguing about this scene is that as a spectator we are presented with such a historically definitive situation as it holds the potential for violent confrontation but Soukrov handles the scene as if it was a Chaplinesque moment particularly in the humour generated by Hirohito's arrogance and adherence to ancestral traditions that seem to alien to General McArthur. On their 2nd meeting it transpires that not much differs in terms of ideology between the two men; they appear almost as mirror images.

Soukrov has become somewhat of an expert at utilising digital cameras and many of his recent films like Russian Ark are vivid adverts for the cinematic possibilities of digital film, ironic considering he is Russian, and that digital film is more akin to Hollywood. Like Downfall, The Sun is a revisionist attempt, and a successful one at that, to re imagine a controversial figure and represent him as somebody who is ultimately a vulnerable, intelligent and pathetic individual.

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