Third part in Aleksandr Sokurov's quadrilogy of Power, following Moloch (1999) and Taurus (2001), focuses on Japanese Emperor Hirohito and Japan's defeat in World War II when he is finally confronted by General Douglas MacArthur who offers him to accept a diplomatic defeat for survival.
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As Japan nears defeat at the end of World War II, Emperor Hirohito starts his day in a bunker underneath the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. A servant reads to him a list of activities for the day, including a meeting with his ministers, marine biology research, and writing his son. Hirohito muses about the impact on such schedules when the Americans arrive but is told that as long as there is a solitary Japanese person living, the Americans will not reach The Emperor. Hirohito replies that he at times feels like he himself will be the last Japanese person left alive. The servant reminds him that he is a deity, not a person, but Hirohito points out that he has a body just like any other man. He later reflects on the causes of the war when dictating observations about a hermit crab, and then about the peace to come when composing a letter to his son. Soon enough General Douglas MacArthur's personal car is sent to bring him through the ruins of Tokyo for a meeting with the supreme commander ...Written by
Aleksandr Sokurov kept the name of the actor playing the Emperor secret, since it is taboo in Japan to play an Emperor on film. Sokurov was afraid for the safety of the actor, after Nagisa Ôshima told him there had been two attempts on his life after he criticized Imperial Japan during WWII. See more »
Very powerful film-making, which leaves you feeling very unsettled. Through the minutae of his days and his every gesture, nervous tick and grimaces, it describes the last days of the living God, the Emperor of Japan. It's already perfectly clear to everyone that Japan is on its knees and the war has been won by mere mortals. It's perfectly clear, and yet the nation apparently still needs to know that its Emperor is a God. Superficially, the movie could be compared to Der Untergang, The Downfall, in that it shows a previous icon of absolute power cooped up in his bunker, days before his complete demise. The mood of these two movies is so very different, though - there was life stirring in among the ashes of Oliver Hirschbiegel's Berlin, still. There is seemingly no life left at all in the devastation surrounding the Japanese Emperor's palace and bunker. You see so little of the physical destruction, possibly because the movie had a small-ish budget and they couldn't afford complete reconstructions, but you feel it everywhere. Never before have sea creatures preserved in formaldehyde been more eerie. I was blown away by the sequences of the catfish (a recurrent subject of traditional Japanese ink drawings) swimming in the sky like bomber planes over a nuclear-war devastated nightmarish landscape. All the way through, I loved the use of classical music, seemingly distant and distorted - Bach and Wagner, and others. Every little gesture and detail in the movie matters, every camera angle and perspective is carefully planned. Some might call it slow, but to be honest I was never bored. Thankfully, the movie is also completely non-judgmental of anyone. Despite the odd wooden performance, I recommend this to anyone who is used to quality world cinema.
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