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Alexander Sokurov, The Sun, and Representing the Japanese Emperor


A year and a half ago, on the occasion of the Nichigei Film Festival which as focused on the representation of the Japanese emperor in film (see my writeup here), I talked a bit on this blog about the difficulty of representing the Japanese emperor on film. This did not mean the emperor was never represented, but even a 1957 feature film like The Solitary One, which I discussed in the writeup, only showed the Crown Prince (later the Heisei Emperor) metonymically though his voice or hands. The emperor became a cinematic problem, posing questions as to how the gaze at the emperor (by characters, by the camera) can be constructed, and, in some cases, how the emperor himself can gaze. Can the emperor, for instance, be made the subject of a point of view shot, which essentially inserts the spectator’s gaze in his, and if so, how?

I had the opportunity to consider this when Alexander Sokurov made the film The Sun (Solntse, 2005) about Hirohito in the last days of WWII, with Issey Ogata playing the emperor. The right wing made threats against the film, but it ended up screening successfully in Japan. An “official book” was produced, and I was asked to contribute an essay. I introduced one of our Yale students at the time, Jeremi Szaniawski, who also contributed a piece (he later published his dissertation on Sokurov as The Cinema of Alexander Sokurov). Since the volume was in Japanese, I tried to save myself some time by writing the article in English and having another Yale student, Naoki Yamamoto, translate it. (It’s unfortunately another one of my Japanese articles I never got around to publishing in English, a few of which I have begun uploading on to the Yale repository, with English versions when available, such as my 1994 article on Suzuki Seijun’s firing from Nikkatsu and my best 30 Japanese films of 1989–1997.)

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