Emperor Hirohito and General Douglas MacArthur
Did he or didn’t he? And if so, how much? These are the eternal questions asked when discussing Emperor Hirohito and his role in WWII. Was he an active participant in the war, encouraging his armies to conquer and with a powerful seat on the war council, or was he nothing more than an impotent figurehead, kept isolated and ignorant of world events.
Herbert P. Bix’s Pulitzer Prize winning Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan falls firmly in the “he did” category. The book paints a picture of a capable and dangerous man who was the driving force behind Japan’s failed wars of conquest, but who then allowed himself to be re-sold as an incompetent fool by General MacArthur in order to avoid trial for war crimes and be further used as a tool for MacArthur’s hold on Japan.
This film, “The Sun” (original title “Solntse”), answers the question in the opposite. Here. Hirohito is as history imagines him. The Emperor is so isolated and protected from daily affairs, that he is barely able to hold a regular conversation, and has no awareness of the impact of his decisions. He is a strange and unique creature, brought up told that he is a living God, but wondering on his own if this is possible, due to his very human body. He does what he is told, follows formalities and ceremony without question, and has little connection with the world outside his palace. This is the doddering fellow who was filmed wandering around Disneyland with Mickey Mouse long after the war was over, assuring the American people that Japan was completely neutered.
Actor Ogata Issei (Tony Takitani) creates a complete portrait of Emperor Hirohito. He gives a nuanced and remarkable performance, and brings “The Sun” to a higher level. Robert Dawson’s General Douglas MacArthur is not so perfect an illusion, but is still excellent as the tough military man trying to understand and work with a bizarre world leader who is as interested in Marine Biology as the destruction and surrender of his country.
It is fitting that the director of “The Sun” is Russian, Aleksandr Sokurov. Russia had a 3rd-party perspective on the US/Japanese conflict, remaining mostly on the fringes. I highly doubt a film like this could be made by either an American or a Japanese director. They would be too inclined to put their countries point of view into the film. With Sokurov, the viewer is allowed to remain neutral and marvel at world events. “The Sun” is the third part of Sokurov’s WWII trilogy, following Moloch and “Taurus.”
“The Sun” is in Japanese, with English subtitles.