Solntse (The Sun) (2005)




Director:     Aleksandr Sokurov.

Starring:     Issei Ogata (Shouwa-Tennou Hirohito), Robert Dawson (General Douglas MacArthur), Kaori Momoi (Empress Kojun), Shirô Sano (The chamberlain), Shinmei Tsuji (Old servant), Taijiro Tamura (Scientist), Georgi Pitskhelauri (McArthur's warrant officer), Hiroya Morita (Suzuki, Prime Minister), Toshiaki Nishizawa (Yonai, Minister of the Navy), Naomasa Musaka (Anami, Minister of the War), Yusuke Tozawa (Kido), Kojiro Kusanagi (Togo, Minister of Foreign Affairs), Tetsuro Tsuno (General Umezu), Rokuro Abe (General Toyoda), Jun Haichi (Abe, Minister of the Interior).

Emperor Hirohito confronted by Gen. Douglas MacArthur at end of WWII (trilogy with Moloch and Taurus)



Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire film.

Near the end of World War II.  1945, Tokyo.  Food is being prepared to be taken into the Emperor.  Everything looks very dark because they are in the bunker.  The Emperor asks for the radio to be turned on.  They find a station but it brings news of those who died in service to the nation on Okinawa.  They turn the radio off.   The scheduling assistant goes over the day's schedule.  At 10 hundred hours he will meet with the Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff.  At 12 hundred hours he will conduct marine biology research.  At 14 hundred hours he will have lunch.  From 15 hundred to 16 hundred hours he will have a nap.  After 16 hundred hours he will have time for private thought and writing. 

The scheduling assistant says that the Emperor will be protected as long as there is one Japanese citizen still left alive.  The Emperor says it seems that everything is leading to the situation where he will be the last Japanese citizen alive.  He suffers from heartburn.  His personal assistant now helps him get dressed.  The Emperor says that no one loves him but his wife and elder son.  The personal assistant adds to that exception the other members of the dynasty and then adds the common people.   Commenting on the common people, the Emperor says "and because of this love I couldn't stop the war."

The Emperor presents a strange appearance.  All his movements are very slow and somewhat stiff.  He even speaks slowly.  And he often holds his mouth open and moves it around in strange motions as though he was trying to get some peanut butter out of the space between his front teeth and the area behind his lips.  The result is an impression of dealing with a person with an eccentric personality. 

The Emperor attends the meeting with his Cabinet and Chiefs of Staff.  The situation on the front is getting worse.  The Defense Minister Anami explains the situation more in depth. As he explains, it is obvious that there is a great deal of tension between the Army and the Navy.  Of course, the Navy is just a shell of itself now.  The front lines have been breached by the enemy at all points.  The Minister sweats profusely and almost cries at points.  The Emperor doesn't comment on what the military men tell him.  He speaks in very vague terms about peace, but it must be an honorable peace.  He then leaves. 

Now the Emperor goes to do his marine biology research.  He looks outside of the building and sees specimens being brought in for his hobby.  Airplanes are heard overhead.  The Emperor describes a species of hermit crab.  His scientific assistant is supposed to be taking down everything the Emperor says about the crab, but it is so boring that he falls asleep.  This makes the Emperor angry and he awakens his assistant.  He continues but then changes subjects.  He talks about the cause of the Great Asian War. 

The Emperor says that the racial discrimination in California, USA in 1924 had a huge influence on the decision to go to war.  In that year immigration of Japanese into the USA was forbidden. This was a serious source of indignation and anger for the Japanese people.  The military rode this wave of protest to foment the desire to take up arms.  The scheduling assistant comes in to say that an American column is moving towards Tokyo and the Emperor should return to his bunker.  The Emperor says that he told Tojo that he should turn his attention not to war in the USSR, but to Africa. 

The Emperor lays in bed, but does not sleep.  There are the muffled sounds of air raid sirens and bomb explosions.  The Emperor sees in his mind American planes bombing Tokyo where the bombs are shaped like fishing swimming in the sea.  Even the planes look in part like wswimming fish.  Tokyo is burning up in his mind.  The Emperor gets up and goes to his desk.  He takes out paper, prepares his ink and starts to write poetry.  But his mind soon switches from poetry to the reasons for the defeat of the Japanese.  His switches again, this time over to looking through his family scrap book.  He kisses one of the pictures  of his mother.  After this he goes through a scrapbook filled with photos of Hollywood stars, male and female.  In this same scrapbook he sees two pictures of a younger Hitler with Von Hindenburg.  

The Emperor changes from military clothing to very formal civilian attire complete with black top hat.  He goes outside into the palace yard.  He hears planes overhead.  He sees an American military policeman trying to chase a huge crane off the lawn because this is where there is going to be a photography session with the Emperor.  An American MP curtly tells the Emperor to get into the car.  The Emperor's personal assistant comes along with the Emperor.  There is an American driver and an American in the front passenger seat.  In front is a jeep filled with American military personnel and the same is true in back of the Emperor's car. 

They are driving the Emperor to a session with Gen. MacArthur.  The Emperor sees the utter devastation of Tokyo and the miserable poverty of the people.  Upon arrival the personal assistant follows behind the Emperor until he is stopped from going beyond a certain point.  The Emperor proceeds alone.  He comes to the door, but just stands there.  The American there finally figures out that he is waiting for someone to open the door for him.   The American opens the door. 

MacArthur says:  "Your Majesty, please come in."  He is very short and abrupt with the Emperor, getting right to the point.  He asks the Emperor if he agrees to submit to the will of the Allied Command?  He is willing.  The Emperor starts speaking in English to MacArthur.  He says that today is a day of disgrace and grief for him.  He tells MacArthur that he speaks German, French, Spanish, some Italian and Chinese.  There is an interpreter in the room, who appears to be an American of Japanese descent.  The man starts a fairly long conversation on his own initiative with the Emperor in Japanese.  He tells the Emperor that he should only speak Japanese to MacArthur, since doing anything else diminishes the Emperor.  He says some other things to the Emperor, until MacArthur asks him if he is through?  The General is mad and tells the translator to put himself under arrest for ten days.  The translator leaves the room.  (A little later MacArthur calls the translator back.)

MacArthur asks the Emperor how are his children?  The Emperor says he wrote a letter to his eldest son concerning the war.  He wrote that the war was lost above all because of national arrogance on the part of Japan.  They underestimated the might of the United States and overestimated the importance of the enthusiasm among the Japanese service men for the war.  He says everyone despised the USA.  MacArthur now asks him what he does for relaxation?  Marine biology research.  MacArthur then thanks the Emperor and says he will be taken back to his palace now.  The General does not shake hands with the Emperor and he does not bow to him.  The Emperor bows.  He waits for someone to open the door, but no one will.  So, he has to open the door himself.  This is not easy because it appears to be the first time he has ever had to open a door.  He fiddles with it briefly, but does get it open and lets himself out. 

To another American, MacArthur comments that the Emperor is like a child.  He also says that the Emperor remains under house arrest for now until his possible complicity in the war and its atrocities can be sorted out.  Back at his desk, the Emperor puts away the small statue of Napoleon Bonaparte.  A gift arrives from MacArthur.  It is a number of boxes of American Hershey chocolate bars.  The Emperor seems pleased by the gift.  He gives some of the candy bars to the men opening the cases.  He takes one for himself, but the scheduling assistant is worried that it might be poisoned.  The Emperor strongly doubts that, but he lets his assistant eat from his candy bar.  Nothing bad happens to the assistant.  The Emperor seems peeved at the assistant and doesn't take a candy bar for himself.

Upon formal request, a scientist comes in to talk with the Emperor.  The process of getting the Emperor and the scientist comfortably seated proves to be a small ordeal.  The scientist goes crazy with following the strictest rules of formality and keeps bowing and scraping to the Emperor.  The Emperor wants the scientist to sit first, but the man will not permit himself to sit first.  He will only sit after the Emperor sits.  This is complicated by the choice of just where they should sit in the room. 

Finally, the two are seated.  The Emperor wants to know about the Northern Lights.  He said his father told him the story of seeing lights in the sky that the Emperor thinks were the Northern Lights.  For some reason, the Emperor thought about these night lights throughout his childhood.  He asks the scientist about the lights and the man tells him frankly that it cannot be the Northern Lights.  Japan is not northerly enough to see these lights.  The Emperor gives the scientist a chocolate bar.  The Emperor now asks what were these lights.  The scientist suggests that the earlier Emperor was a great poet and perhaps he imagined the lights.  The current Emperor is a bit disappointed at the answers from the scientists.  The meeting is ended. 

The Emperor tells his scheduling assistant to tell MacArthur that the Emperor will appear and pose for the photographers.  The assistant says that the photographers are already at this very moment waiting for the Emperor to take his photograph.  The personal assistant goes outside first and the military photographers go crazy taking his photo.  The Japanese-American translator tells the men that this is not the Emperor!  As the men demand to know when the Emperor will be out, the Emperor in a western civilian suit and hat comes out quietly by himself.  No one pays any attention to him as they are preoccupied with arguing with the translator.   The Emperor is almost right on top of them before one photographer asks who is this man is in front of them, but behind the translator.  The translator turns around and is shocked to see the Emperor.  He now explains that this man is the Emperor.  The photographers find that hard to believe.  One says:  "That's an emperor!?" 

The photographers start popping their shots.  They have very little respect for the Emperor.  They say he looks like Charlie Chaplin.  In fact, they start calling him Charlie.  This really upsets the translator who tries to keep the photographers from getting too close to the Emperor.  That proves an impossible task, so the translator declares that the session is over.  As the Emperor leaves, the Americans say goodbye, Charlie.  The Emperor asks the translator if he really looks like the movie star?  The translator says he doesn't know because he doesn't watch movies. 

The Emperor has dinner with MacArthur.  MacArthur is torn between being polite and being confrontational.  He does a bit of both.  For instance, he refers to the Emperor's "friend" Hitler.  The Emperor says he did not know Hitler.  He never met the man.  MacArthur offers the Emperor a Cuban cigar, but the Emperor declines.  (Later, however, he accepts his offer.)  MacArthur tells the Emperor that his father worked in this very building at one time.  Dad was a military attaché and often worked with the American Ambassador to Japan.  

Then MacArthur gets to the real point, the only unresolved issue.  And that is the issue of the fate of the Emperor.  He tells the Emperor that photographs are good because it will make the public abroad see the Emperor as a real person and then they will look more favorably upon him and be more charitable.  Then MacArthur asks:  "What's it like to be a living god?"  The Emperor says that an emperor's life is not an easy one.  MacArthur suddenly excuses himself saying he has to attend to an important matter.  He leaves the Emperor all alone on the couch.  After awhile the Emperor goes over to look out the window.  He then wanders over to the table and puts out all the candles.  MacArthur watches him through a door just cracked a little open.  He laughs quietly at the Emperor's childlike actions. 

MacArthur returns and asks the Emperor again how are his children?  The Emperor says he sent his children to the countryside to avoid the American atrocities like that at Hiroshima.  MacArthur is offended by the use of the word atrocities applied to the Americans.  He asks the Emperor if the real beasts of the war were not those who carried out the attack on Pearl Harbor?  The Emperor does not really give an answer to this.  So MacArthur assures the Emperor that he can bring his family back to the palace.  They will not be in any danger.  Sitting behind the back of the Emperor, he whispers that he won't make the Emperor do anything and he won't insist on anything. 

The Emperor is driven home.  The Emperor tells his personal assistant to leave him alone so he can be in private.  But the assistant hangs around the outside door and keeps peeking in.  Again the Emperor has to tell him to leave.  And again.  This time the assistant actually leaves.  The Empeor talks out loud to himself. He says he will renounce his divine nature and origins.  His scheduling assistant peeks in on the Emperor.  After awhile he leaves. 

The Emperor's family has arrived.  His wife comes in to see him.  Everything looks so stiff and stilted about the reunion.  It looks awkward to an American and is, in fact, awkward.  But once the assistant leaves them, things become less stilted.  The Emperor takes his wife's two hands in his hands and has her sit in a seat next to the couch.  He sits on the couch and leans his shoulder into her right shoulder area.  She looks as though she doesn't know how to respond.  She pats his hair down.  He tells her:  "Now we are free.  I am no longer a god.  I renounce it."   The Empress seems to approve, but wonders now what will happen?  He talks a little to her about his poetry, but he did not write much of it.  He says he wants to see the children.  They are in the outside hall. The Emperor and Empress go to see the children.  As the Emperor passes the scheduling assistant, he asks him what happened to the sound engineer who taped his speech to the Japanese people?  The assistant says that the man committed hara-kiri (ritual suicide).  This makes the Emperor sad and he seems frozen in place.  His wife suddenly pulls on him strongly to get him away from the assistant and over to the children. 

The ending scene is an aerial look of a virtually flattened Tokyo. 


I found the movie fascinating.  It gives the viewer the impression of being a fly on the wall, seeing all the private actions and hearing all the private statements of the Emperor and the others around him.  And the Emperor certainly seems eccentric.  I felt like a staring voyeur watching this strange man.  It was interesting just watching his reactions to these brand new things the Emperor has to do.  Some of them were funny, such as the American photographer' rough and crude attitudes toward the Emperor while taking his photo.  What a contrast with the formality of Japanese life at the time. 

The interactions with MacArthur were also very interesting to watch.  The Emperor looks like he can never just be normal and act normal in a situation with others.  He did not get mad at any of the questions asked to him by MacArthur, but his way of answering was a bit stilted.  He's just weird.   (To be fair, he was always treated like an emperor god and doesn't know how to act "normally".)

It was hard to tell the chronological sequence dealing with the end of the war, but the film mainly did concentrate on presenting a portrait of the emperor with all his flaws.  So, I can readily overlook this problem.  I had a good time watching the film.    Very good was Issei Ogata as Emperor Hirohito.  Robert Dawson as General Douglas MacArthur was also good. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


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