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The Sun, May 3

49th San Francisco International Film Festival at PFA

Wednesday, May 3, 2006
7:00 p.m. The Sun
Alexander Sokurov (Russia/Italy/France/Switzerland, 2005)

(Solntse). The war is over. Much of Japan is a smoking ruin. As U.S. forces roll into a flattened Tokyo, Emperor Hirohito—considered by the Japanese to be a divine being, a descendant of the Sun God—putters about the bunkers below his Imperial Palace, writing poetry, leafing though his photo album of American movie stars, delighting in his hobby of marine biology. His attendants do everything for him, from organizing his schedule to buttoning his shirt. Alexander Sokurov's new film is a deeply sympathetic portrayal of Hirohito as something of a holy fool, a Chaplinesque character so disconnected from daily life that he doesn't even know how to open a door by himself. The Sun's denouement depicts the Emperor's meeting of surrender with General Douglas MacArthur, a meeting that could just as easily be taking place between an earthling and a Martian—two aliens sizing each other up. Their encounter is strange, intense, uncomfortable, funny, sad, and respectful all at once. If you've seen Sokurov's films before, you'll have some idea of what to expect: a beautiful aquarium-tinged color scheme, a mesmerizing pace, remarkable performances, and a quiet but constantly creative soundscape. What you may not expect is the humor—Issey Ogata gives a genuinely droll performance as the Emperor—and the astonishing special effects, like the dream sequence in which Hirohito sees his city bombed to fiery oblivion by flying fish. The third entry in Sokurov's mesmerizing series about twentieth-century despots, this is a truly unexpected film from an always-fascinating director.

—Tod Booth

• Written by Yury Arabov. Photographed by Sokurov. With Issey Ogata, Robert Dawson, Kaori Momoi, Shiri Sano. (110 mins)