Tuesday, September 24, 2013

American Mishima Looks at The Sun

As we have been working on publishing an illustrated a book and a epic Samurai Novel, we haven't had the time to review any films lately and we do apologize for that. So in doing so we thought this film review was worthy of mention. Earlier this year we reviewed the 2012 film “Emperor” which depicted the American Occupiers post war investigation as to the Showa Emperor's role in the war. In our research we discovered an earlier Russian film which also depicted the late Showa Emperor in the same period of the closing days of WWII in the 2005 film titled “The Sun” directed by Aleksandr Sokurov'. While Sokurov' contends he is not interested in Politics, the stark difference between Emperor and The Sun become quite clear.

The Sun features Ogata Issei in the starring role as the Showa Emperor Hirohito. In this film we see a very different Showa Emperor cloistered in the isolation and claustrophobia of his underground wartime bunker. While conditions inside the Imperial Bunker are not so much like the Führerbunker in Berlin, the mood is equally grim.
Here we see a rather frail looking Showa Emperor meeting with his wartime Ministers in Military uniform for the last time. As depicted in other films, ministers representing the rival Army and Navy bicker over who has lost the war. The Emperor seems powerless to control the ensuing debacle and escapes his air raid shelter to study marine biology as a mental health distraction while Tokyo is under constant bombardment. Unlike Hitler, the Showa Emperor is portrayed as being somewhat childlike and lost consuming himself in Tanka poems of his grandfather the Late Meiji Emperor and other philosophical pursuits. While he does accept personal blame, he does acknowledge his own limited power to stop his ministers from going to war and the arrogance that in turn lost the war.

While it is anyone's guess here in the West as to how he the late Hirohito felt about his divinity, The Sun depicts his divine status as a burden which he is happy to be rid of. History recalls this was an imposed condition of Japan's Capitulation. As the film continues on, we have no visible time line between the closing days of the war and the post war Occupation. In fact, you can never tell when this film is going to become dramatic or going to end. One moment, air raid sirens scream in the background while we are given an artsy depiction of angry fish replacing enemy bombers incinerating the capitol. 

The next thing you know there are American soldiers on the Imperial Palace Grounds treating the IHA staff and the Emperor himself with a total lack of respect. Save for one Nisei Warrant Officer (played by Georgi Pitskhelauri ) who serves as MacArthur's translator who bows and addresses the Emperor with dignity, the rest of the troops mock the Japanese. While it is likely possible that such disrespect may have taken place during the American Occupation, it's hard to imagine seeing the Showa Emperor being taunted by common American foot soldiers from Alabama during a photo session being called Charlie Chan. 

Straying further from history, there is no mention of General Bonner Fellers who in Emperor leads the investigation into the Emperor's Wartime Role. In “The Sun” we have General MacArthur (played by Robert Dawson) leading the investigation himself in a series of personal meetings where he grills the Emperor in an antagonistic manner in English and somewhat with contempt. We of course had a problem with this. Whatever MacArthur's private notions might have been, he is recorded as treating the late Showa Emperor with dignity and respect not found in this film. Sorry Robert Dawson, but Tommy Lee Jones played the role with more character.

History recalls that MacArthur did meet with him eleven times and did so as respect as he saw him as a living unifying symbol of Japan. In contrast, the film depicts the Showa Emperor as a frail, nervous, and somewhat lost in his own sense of dimension. Clearly, if there was some truth to it the Imperial Household Agency would have objected to letting the public see this private side that robbed the late Emperor of his dignity. An actor can only work with the script given to him. And while we can not blame Ogata for the role we can question the writing of this picture. For our money, we recommend you pass on this film and see Emperor. 

If you would like to see The Sun for yourself, it is available on Netflix for rental. 

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