Solntse (The Sun) Reviews
(For those of you who haven't seen it, Downfall is a film depicting Adolph Hitler's last days during the fall of his regime at the end of World War II)
I found the phrase 'companion piece' a strange way to describe a movie, but I took from that a notion that The Sun was a film dealing with similar themes in a similar way, to a similar standard. How wrong I was.
I suppose it is true to say that the films do deal with similar subject matter, but this statement must be qualified but this one - Hirohito was a far less interesting man than Hitler. While Hitler was screaming at his military, or desperately trying to devise a way to keep his country and his dream alive, Hirohito was... taking a nap.
The film starts off very slowly, and in an annoyingly deliberate manor... then ... it kinda stays that way. The Japanese are never afraid to turn you off a film before dragging you back in kicking and screaming, so I was expecting this torturous vision of a slightly odd man sitting in a bunker waiting to die to be a prelude to some real life affirming stuff, but alas, eventually it became clear there was nothing in this film to grab you, let alone pull you back from the edge of the sh*t-abyss it has been trying to push you into.
Aleksandr Sokurov captures the dying gasp of the once-magnificent Empire of Japan as a series of aesthetically cold two-character scenes taking place in dark rooms. It's an intelligent, low-key counterpoint to the hysterical "The Downfall", which relied too much on the off-kilter Bruno Ganz and endless scenes of Germans committing suicide. Here, all the horrors occur offscreen except for a surrealistic nightmare involving flying fish transforming Tokyo into a hellish firestorm. We examine the inherent evil in inaction, contrasted with the emotionally stunted existence of the ruling class.
Cinematography is reminiscent of "Letters from Iwo Jima", with its washed out, grainy, predominately grey color scheme. Scenes outside the Imperial Palace are masterful depictions of total ruin. Amazingly enough, the American characters (namely General MacArthur) aren't portrayed as heroic, though neither are they Ugly Westerners. "The Sun" is as much about cultural obsolescence and the rise of Capitalism as it is about war or mentally deficient emperors. Stirring stuff.