Third part in Aleksandr Sokurov's quadrilogy of Power, following Moloch (1999) and Taurus (2001), focuses on Japanese Emperor Hirohito and Japan's defeat in World War II when he is finally confronted by General Douglas MacArthur who offers him to accept a diplomatic defeat for survival.
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As Japan nears defeat at the end of World War II, Emperor Hirohito starts his day in a bunker underneath the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. A servant reads to him a list of activities for the day, including a meeting with his ministers, marine biology research, and writing his son. Hirohito muses about the impact on such schedules when the Americans arrive but is told that as long as there is a solitary Japanese person living, the Americans will not reach The Emperor. Hirohito replies that he at times feels like he himself will be the last Japanese person left alive. The servant reminds him that he is a deity, not a person, but Hirohito points out that he has a body just like any other man. He later reflects on the causes of the war when dictating observations about a hermit crab, and then about the peace to come when composing a letter to his son. Soon enough General Douglas MacArthur's personal car is sent to bring him through the ruins of Tokyo for a meeting with the supreme commander ... Written by
Aleksandr Sokurov kept the name of the actor playing the Emperor secret, since it is taboo in Japan to play an Emperor on film. Sokurov was afraid for the safety of the actor, after Nagisa Ôshima told him there have been two attempts on his life after he criticized Imperial Japan during WWII. See more »
I like Ogata in most all he does. But I think his casting here is a mistake. He is excellent at pulling out the one or two things of a type to set up a humorous caricature. He is an excellent comedian. I think, though, that as an impressionist rather than an actor, he played his impersonation a little too broadly. (It may be because Ogata does a lot of stage work, and had trouble toning down for the camera.) Having personally met the Emperor Showa in 1985, I can say with some confidence that though the twitching lips are an attribute, it was not as pronounced as Ogata plays it, less conscious, and more a condition of advanced age. (Hence overdone for playing someone in his 40's.)
Another point of contention I have is with the script. There are quite a few moments when Ogata orders his servants to do something; but with the subservient plea "--kudasai". In the first half of the 20th century, the Japanese language was still exceedingly rank conscious. Even a commoner would use a condescending verb form for a request to a subordinate, whether the subordinate was a wife, a servant or an employee. It is even more strange to imagine the fawning servants enduring a request spoken by the Emperor from a linguistic position of submission. Courtly language is quite different from colloquial Japanese, and one instance we have of this is from his first radio transmission in which the Emperor used the personal pronoun 'Chin'.
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