The first hour, The Sun is soporific. I stayed awake, but it is easy to understand how someone could nod off. There is very little light (ironic given the title of the film), and the action appears hazy and dreamlike. I suppose the technique is to force the audience to remind themselves, consciously, to concentrate on the dialogue, but why?
The film is about Emperor Hirohito, in the last days of World War II. The line of emperors in Japan was considered to be divine; essentially, Hirohito was believed by ‘every schoolboy’ (as the film puts it) to be a god, albeit in human form. What I wasn’t really clear about is, did the Japanese mostly believe this to be literally true? Or was it understood to be symbolically true. Sokurov suggests that the populace of Japan, almost in its entirety, believed that Hirohito was literally, in fact, God (or a god?). Personally I find it hard to believe that everyone believed that. However, that issue is not explored in the film.
There are some minor spoilers below the cut, but the film is not plot-driven anyway so I wouldn’t worry about it being ‘spoiled’.
The heart of the film is two scenes where General MacArthur meets with Hirohito. These scenes are the most accessible in the film (partly because the men converse in English) but also left me puzzled. For example, in one exchange Hirohito says that he had believed the American forces would be monsters, because of the devastation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. MacArthur quickly responds, “I didn’t give that order.” It is an odd thing to say, because up until then, MacArthur had been acting as a representative of the United States government, but his reaction to the mention of Hiroshima came across almost as critical of his government’s decision to drop the nuclear bombs. Then, when MacArthur mentions the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hirohito responds: “I didn’t give that order.” I suppose this is one of the “laugh lines” referred to in Michael Sicinski’s review of the film, but I would really like to know the point of this exchange. Is MacArthur supposed to be seen as a hypocrite? Of course I do not object to ambiguity in a film, but I like to think that the ambiguity is intentional, rather than a result of the filmmakers not knowing what they want to say about their subject.
Despite all that, I was never bored during the film. Something about it kept me watching; I never thought about walking out.
After seeing it I read a lot of online reviews of the film. Most were quite positive; for example, it is on the top ten unreleased films list of the blogger Filmbrain. Here are some links:
The Academic Hack
Toronto Film Fester
The Sky in Vancouver
IMDb external reviews page
The Vancouver run of The Sun continues until this Tuesday (Feb. 21), three screenings a day, at the Vancouver International Film Centre. When I was there Friday night it was almost empty; there were maybe a dozen people in the audience, if that.