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Aleksandr Sokurov's "The Sun"
September 13, 2005 9:54 AM   Subscribe

The Emperor's Bunker. "The Japanese, with sadness and irony, stressed that Hirohito couldn't even speak properly. This was partly to do with the fact that he didn't have to speak - people spoke in his name and he was isolated from real life". "The Sun", the third part in Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov's 'Men of Power' tetralogy after the gloom of Moloch (1999), about Hitler and Eva Braun, and the despairing tones of "Taurus" (2001), focused on the wheelchair-bound Lenin in his death throes, "The Sun" seems almost upbeat. This, after all, is a film about reconciliation. More inside.
posted by matteo (21 comments total)

 
JG Ballard applauds Alexander Sokurov's remarkable film portrait of Hirohito

Ingmar Bergman is Sokurov's fan.

Sokurov's paean to the Hermitage museum, shot in a single 99-minute take.
posted by matteo at 9:56 AM on September 13, 2005


I haven't seen these others but Russian Ark was one of the most incredible feats of filmmaking I've ever seen.
posted by OmieWise at 10:00 AM on September 13, 2005


"A director is like a cook in a restaurant who doesn't know the stomachs of his guests: what he makes is sort of an ideal recipe. The viewer comes into the theater and begins to eat time. Some of it he digests, some of it he does not digest. That can make him sick or irritated. Painting knows no such phenomenon, nor does literature. We could call it the curse of film, the non-artistic component. Painting is therapy, film is still a kind of surgery."
-- Alexander Sokurov
posted by matteo at 10:05 AM on September 13, 2005


Among Sokurov's fans, the Quay Brothers
posted by matteo at 10:07 AM on September 13, 2005


Will either of these be the subject of Sokurov's next film?
posted by kika at 10:12 AM on September 13, 2005


I'm surprised I've never heard of this man before. This whole series intrigues me. I really want to see all three now. As for the fourth, Sokurov seems to have a fascinating way to end it. I am a fan of Göethe's Faust, a screen interpretation of the myth should be interesting.
And Sokurov himself is promising to lighten up. He plans to round off the 'Men of Power' series with a film based on the Faust myth as interpreted by Goethe, Thomas Mann and others. "It will be a very colourful, elegant picture with a lot of Strauss music," he says. "There won't be any smell of war but you'll sense the aroma of chocolate in the room."
posted by [expletive deleted] at 10:13 AM on September 13, 2005


The Sun will be playing at the NYFF. Tix are on sale now thru phone and web.
posted by shortfuse at 10:14 AM on September 13, 2005


By God, what a load of revisionist tosh!
Whatever the revisionist historians may say about Hirohito, Sokurov regards him as a holy innocent: a man who was neither articulate nor especially bright.
This is nonsense from start to finish: Hirohito was no dullard by any stretch of the imagination, and as a scholar he even managed to make the odd minor contribution to marine biology. Compared to the mentally unstable father for whom he played regent, Hirohito was the figure of clear-thinking - so clear-thinking, in fact, that after a war he'd long refused to declare lost for fear of losing his throne, he knew enough to play up his harmlessness to a Douglas McArthur who ate it up.
"Unlike Hitler or Lenin, Hirohito had no lust for power, no interest in ideology and didn't "kill anybody or step over anybody" in his bid to achieve high office.
How much more laughable is it possible to get: no lust for power on the part of a man who warmly approved of the invasion of first Manchuria and then China proper? As for the not having to "kill anybody or step over anybody" bit, well of course he didn't have to - he was born to reign, after all!

This is not a serious movie, though I can well understand why many Japanese people would embrace it warmly.
posted by Goedel at 10:23 AM on September 13, 2005


This is not a serious movie....

Yes, you're right; i did think it a bit odd that they would say Hirohito didn't know how to "speak properly" -- that doesn't jibe with what I know about proper Japanese society (admittedly, not much). He'd have been taught to speak. He's the living god of Shinto; he'd have been trained to at least a basic level of competence in arts that Shinto values highly, like speaking and calligraphy.

But: Literal historical accuracy hasn't got much to do with seriousness, or even value. If accuracy is required for "seriousness", then we have to write off most films ever made, including Casablanca (shot on sound stages in Hollywood and not even vaguely resembling Casablanca), LOTR (or just about any work of fantasy, for that matter), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (or just about any major Leone film) (the historical inconsistencies could fill several pages), Battleship Potempkin, ... hell, what gets left when we're done?

In a way, films create a mythology and they need to be judged on the basis of the mythology that they create. It doesn't make a ton of sense to write of Solaris because it has bad physics, because it's not about physics. It doesn't make sense to write of Leone because he depicts widespread use of repeating rifles with hard brass cartridges at a time when such things were too exotic and high tech for regular soldiers.

That said, at some point, you run the risk of creating a myth that plays into someone else's agenda. That seems to be what you're arguing about The Sun. I'm not sure where I would come down on this. Traditional American Westerns bother me because they help to perpetuate myths about America that end up not serving us very well; the current wave of television crime dramas can be understood as 48m. morality plays, but they also serve the social-conservative law 'n' order agenda by painting a picture of a decaying and dangerous world. All legitimate concerns -- but let's not criticise it for mere inaccuracy. Let's damn things for their effects, not for their literary license.
posted by lodurr at 12:10 PM on September 13, 2005


not a serious movie, though I can well understand why many Japanese people would embrace it warmly.

on 99.99999% of Western movies ever made in Hollywood: "not a serious movie, though I can well understand why many Americans embraced it warmly".

;)

Gödel, Sokurov's not out to make PBS documentaries -- that's Ken Burns' job, and we all know how exciting and talented a filmmaker he really is.

arguing that films are supposed to teach sound history is just like arguing that one should learn science from, ahem, the Bible
posted by matteo at 2:26 PM on September 13, 2005


not a serious movie, though I can well understand why many Japanese people would embrace it warmly.

on 99.99999% of Western movies ever made in Hollywood: "not a serious movie, though I can well understand why many Americans embraced it warmly".

;)

Gödel, Sokurov's not out to make PBS documentaries -- that's Ken Burns' job, and we all know how exciting and talented a filmmaker he really is.

arguing that films are supposed to teach sound history is just like arguing that one should learn science from, ahem, the Bible
posted by matteo at 2:26 PM on September 13, 2005


heh. sorry.
posted by matteo at 2:28 PM on September 13, 2005


But: Literal historical accuracy hasn't got much to do with seriousness, or even value.
I'm not saying it does. What I am saying is that a movie which pushes a whitewashed version of history palatable to those who'd like to forget what really happened way back when isn't worth taking seriously: Shintaro Ishihara, the uyoku and all the other right wing types will love this picture, if for no other reason than that its success will make their efforts to sell a revisionist history of Japan's war of aggression that much easier, but anyone who's concerned with where all this mythmaking might lead can't help but view this particular picture with contempt. Aestheticism detached from ethics or historical memory leads to the worship of "Triumph des Willens" and the stylish cut of SS uniforms.
posted by Goedel at 2:33 PM on September 13, 2005


arguing that films are supposed to teach sound history is just like arguing that one should learn science from, ahem, the Bible
Films that try to sell their viewers on the "peaceful" and "simple" natures of extreme right-wing militarist are nothing but propaganda vehicles, and there's nothing wrong with saying as much. This guy doesn't claim to be making a film about a fictionalized Emperor of Japan, he says he's making a picture about a real man who really existed and made some real f***ing bad decisions which cost tens of millions of people throughout Asia their lives, and here I am being told I shouldn't be taking objection at its artistic licence? Would you be just as okay with a movie which recast Hitler as a simple Austrian corporal forced against his will into a bloody war by Jewish manipulators, just as long as it was entertaining and had high production values?
posted by Goedel at 2:39 PM on September 13, 2005


Mel Brooks says yes, it's actually OK
posted by matteo at 4:15 PM on September 13, 2005


oh, and: Godwin
posted by matteo at 4:16 PM on September 13, 2005


> Regression from a critical to an affirmative view of the war began only after the occupation ended.... Before and during World War II, a chrysanthemum taboo shielded the Japanese monarchy from view, making it extremely difficult to critically scrutinize Hirohito. After the war, the US occupation's laudatory and exculpatory view of Hirohito, one quite similar to that put forward by ruling groups in Japan, prevailed.

American public understanding of Hirohito's role in the political process was almost non-existent. The conventional wisdom held that he had been a mere figurehead. Passive and powerless, he acceded to, but never actively backed, the decisions of the militarists to wage all-out war .... The conventional wisdom also described Hirohito as a pacifist, an anti-militarist, and a principled seeker of diplomatic solutions to problems.

The emperor was a complex, stubborn, conflicted, and nervous man. During the first two decades of his reign he gave full attention to protection of his imperial house and preservation of the Japanese empire. From early boyhood he had been educated in both Confucian and idealized samurai values. This failed and the culpable political leader and supreme military commander -- who led Japan on a disastrous course of empire and war -- survived his mistakes....

The decision to preserve the monarchy and retain Hirohito served US interests of preserving stability. But it delayed the Japanese people's confrontation with their wartime past, contributed to the censoring and falsification of wartime history, and ultimately acted as a brake on democratization. The ghost of Hirohito still looms behind the misunderstanding and distrust of Japan that exists today in many Asian countries.

posted by dhartung at 8:02 PM on September 13, 2005


My human rights prof talks with some degree of awe about this time. He says it has no modern parallel, in that, until Hirohito came on the radio that one time, the Japanese people had never heard his voice before. Their interpretation of the Shinto religion held him up as a god, and in that moment they heard their god speak... and he was saying that they must surrender...
posted by dreamsign at 10:23 PM on September 13, 2005


"...arguing that films are supposed to teach sound history is just like arguing that one should learn science from, ahem, the Bible"

Surely you meant to qualify this somehow. As it is, it's like saying the same thing about books. Film is a medium. It can teach history.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 5:43 AM on September 14, 2005


documentaries can, but I still think the main tool to teach history is books. I don't see cinema replacing serious history books anytime soon, not even the best documentary (think Nuit et Brouillard) can replace books -- selected documentaries can be helpful tools, just that.
but there's quite a difference between fiction and nonfiction, EB. cinema is mostly fiction -- it's supposed to be. even when it talks about real-life characters.

I love Griffith, but I suspect that his version of American history is somewhat shaky
posted by matteo at 6:05 AM on September 14, 2005


documentaries can, but I still think the main tool to teach history is books.

Now that's getting somewhere. The mediums differ. (Not up on my McLuhan -- books would be "cool", right?) Cinema -- film, even documentary film, even very painfully literal documentary film -- inherently creates a narrative in ways that books are not bound to. (Though they can be.)

Relate Truffault's observation to the effect that it's impossible to make a really genuinely critical movie about war, because presenting war in a film inherently glamorizes it.
posted by lodurr at 7:53 AM on September 15, 2005


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