With no new programs worth mentioning, I’m taking the opportunity to discuss things I saw ages ago but never got round to writing about.
Usually, this Russian film (in Japanese and English) from 2005 is compared to Downfall since both films portray the final days of a war as seen by the defeated leader. But this also has similarities to The Last Emperor, in that it follows the story of a man previously protected by tradition, suddenly having to face a less-respectful reality.
Historians have suggested that the Japanese Emperor Hirohito was either an evil dictator or a somewhat ineffectual and cowardly leader, more interested in science than politics. Neither is particularly flattering.
This film takes the second option. Issy Ogata plays the role of Hirohito. It’s a sympathetic, sensitive and sometimes beautiful performance. The Hirohito in this film uses his power to try and ignore what is going on in his name. He marvels over the wonders of marine biology, while remaining supremely indifferent to the suffering caused by the war. As the US Air Force bombing raids hit Japanese cities, he sits in his office and tries to write poetry.
Ogata’s Hirohito is an overly mannered gentleman, rather stiff in his movements. While thinking, he moves his lips like a child who is reading to himself. Whether Hirohito did this or not in real life, I don’t know, but it makes Hirohito seem like a man with very little confidence.
He also seems to have a remarkable lack of physical presence. He sits primly on his seat while an American official sprawls casually on a sofa. While being taken somewhere in an American car, he is largely obscured by the two G.I.s in the front seat. Clearly, this is a visual device to reflect the poor bargaining position that Japan was in at the end of the war.
It’s a fascinating film, and a genuine attempt to understand what must be considered one of the worst examples in history of the wrong man in the wrong job at the wrong time.