The Sun

Russian director Aleksandr Sokurov is one of the legendary foreign auteurs of whom we in the US see far too little. Though his Russian Ark created a stir last year for its technical merit (the entire film consists of a single, 96-minute tracking shot), most of his works fail to find distribution in the US, and his fans must track them down at film festivals, or buy hacked DVD players and foreign DVDs. (Or they go to press screenings, which end up so full that people are sitting on the floor.) The Sun, his latest work, is the third in what Sokurov calls his “men of power” tetrology. It, too, is still lacking a distributor (ironically, its screening at the New York Film Festival comes in the midst of a general release in England) and will probably suffer the same fate as the first two films in the series (Moloch, about Hitler and Eva Braun, and Taurus, which explored Stalin’s last days), neither of which ever was seen outside of festivals in the US.

With The Sun, Sokurov turns his attention to Japan's World War II leader, Emperor Hirohito (Issei Ogata). Though the film is ostensibly a examination of the days surrounding the Emperor’s decision to surrender, it also offers a fascinatingly intimate portrait of a man and a nation. Concerned much more with the details of personality and psychology than with those of international politics, much of Sokurov’s film is spent alone with Hirohito, as he struggles to come to grips with his role in the horror that has befallen his people. Splitting his time between a miraculously untouched laboratory and his underground bunker, the Emperor - also known as The Sun - sees only his own servants, who are simultaneously proud and terrified of the God they serve; even in their presence he is entirely isolated inside his own head.