After portraying Hitler in MOLOCH, and Lenin in TAURUS, in his latest film, Aleksandr Sokurow turns his attentions to another historical figure – Japanese Emperor Hirohito – who takes a retrospective look at his own life.
Japan in the summer of 1945. On 15 August, millions of Japanese hear the voice of their emperor for the first time. In his address to the nation, he commands his army and his people to cease all fighting.
This announcement enables the Allies to land on Japan’s islands without encountering any form of resistance. With his appeal, the Emperor saves the lives of millions of Japanese who were prepared to fight to the death for their emperor and their country; it also saves the lives of thousands of Americans and Chinese, Britons and Russians. In spite of this act, the victorious powers insist that the Emperor appear before a military tribunal.
Commander-in-chief of the American occupying forces in Japan, General Douglas McArthur, advises his own President not to declare Emperor Hirohito a war criminal. This film tells the story of the meetings between these two men. In his memoirs, McArthur wrote that the Emperor was prepared to accept responsibility for the actions of his government and his army – although he was well aware that the consequences for him would be trial and death. “I was shocked,” writes McArthur. “He may have been an Emperor by birth, but, at that moment I also realised that, in terms of his mental strength he was a gentleman, the first Japanese gentleman that I had ever met.” Shortly afterwards, Emperor Hirohito makes a speech in public in which he renounces his divine descent, becoming instead a “symbol of the state and the unity of the people”.
Taking a similar stance, Sokurow’s film does not see Hirohito first and foremost as the 124th descendant of the sun goddess Amaterasu, but as a human being, deeply affected by the tragedy that besets his country.
Katalog der 55. Internationalen Filmfestspiele Berlin 200
by Aleksandr Sokurow
with Issey Ogata, Robert Dawson, Shiro Sano, Kaori Momoi
Russian Federation / Italy / France / Switzerland 2004/05