By Bryce J. Renninger | Indiewire November 17, 2009 at 4:42AM
Yesterday, when Eugene Hernandez unveiled the new indieWIRE feature, criticWIRE, he announced that this week's highest rated new release was a little film that debuted at the 2005 Berlinale. With a criticWIRE average of A-, Alexander Sokurov's "The Sun (Solntse)" opens at Film Forum tomorrow.
Variety's Leslie Felperin situates the film within the filmmaker's oeuvre: "Like the other two parts of the 'tetralogy,' as Sokurov calls it, main protag in "The Sun" is a head of state normally vilified by history, introduced just as power is slipping away from him. But Sokurov's Hirohito (Issey Ogata) is a not an unsympathetic character, perhaps the most likeable out of the three films. Indeed, whereas "Moloch" depicted a Hitler deranged by obsessions, and "Taurus" a Lenin near senility, Hirohito here is not only in full command of his faculties, but shapes his own destiny, choosing a path -- surrender -- that will spare his subjects further suffering. Ironically, he can achieve this aim only by renouncing his status as a divine being, but this seems a relief for a man weary with divinity and the rigmarole of being head of state."
Keith Uhlich, in Slate Magazine, continues the praise of the director's style, "Shot on low-lit digital video and transferred to film, 'The Sun' maintains Sokurov's obsession with sepia-toned imagery, burnished by a near-subliminal sound design mix of classical music, radio static, and a hollow, incessant hum emanating from and echoing off of the walls in Hirohito's underground bunker. A colleague expressed a desire to see Sokurov try his hand at a horror movie; I'd offer that between this film and 'Moloch' (the previous entry in Sokurov's stated tetralogy that also includes 'Taurus' and an upcoming adaptation of Göethe's 'Faust') the director's made his fair share."
In a Time Out London review, "Sokurov avails himself of a witty, touching, supremely expressive turn by Ogata, illuminating not only the gloomier corners of the imperial bunker but the obscure parameters of what was, inevitably, a strange psyche. Indeed, the entire film (and, perhaps, the trilogy) may finally be regarded as a journey into light: Hirohito’s abrogation of privilege and power liberates his people, his family and himself from a death-wish deeply ingrained in twentieth-century life."
In the New York Times, Manohla Dargis says, "The predictably unreliable Russian filmmaker Alexander Sokurov has shot this wonderfully eccentric and fascinating film about the last days of Emperor Hirohito's reign as if it were a science-fiction film." Her colleague Dennis Lim adds, "Like its predecessors 'The Sun' is largely a chamber piece. His country in ruins, Hirohito keeps up his ritualized existence in the bunkers of his compound, surrounded by timorous manservants, writing haiku and studying hermit crabs. But he can ignore the victorious Americans for only so long. 'The Sun,' which builds to the emperor’s public renunciation of his divinity, follows the usual arc of a rites-of-passage movie, except the passage is from living god to mere mortal."