Dir. Alexander Sokurov.Russ-It-Fr-UK. 110mins.

After Hitler and Lenin,it is now the turn of Japan's Emperor Hirohito to be the centrepiece ofAlexander Sokurov's third chapter in his projected tetralogy on politicalleaders of the 20th century.

Far more relaxed, positiveand even cheerful - if such a term can be applied to a Sokurov work - thancompanion pieces Moloch or Taurus, The Sun displays realaffection for its subject and sincere admiration for Hirohito's decision to askhis nation to surrender near the end of World War Two to avoid unnecessary lossof life. His request was then followed by an announcement that Hirohito wouldforego his divine status, ending the traditional belief among the Japanese thatall their Emperors were gods.

But The Sun's comparativelightness of tone does not mean it is necessarily any more accessible noteasier to grasp than Sokurov's previous work. It is less spectacular than RussianArk, though just as handsome in its sombre manner and agonisingly slowpace, employing an almost conservative film language as if to pay visual homageto the great Japanese film-makers of the past. An arthouse item par excellencefilm, its best prospects are among specialised circuits, boosted by a highprofile from festival appearances such as its competition slot at Berlin.

Narrative fluency is notreally Sokurov's forte: for him it is not the story but how it is told and allthe details that adorn it. Here, Yuri Arabov's script focuses on that fatefulday in summer 1945, when Emperor Hirohito (Issey Ogata), described by many as a'small, puny, thin voiced scientist involved in hydrobiology' took agiant step and radically revolutionised the status of the Japanese monarchy.

It begins with the ceremonyof his morning rituals, followed by a government session in which he is given afull report on the appalling state of war. Then there is a short visit to hislaboratory, interrupted by yet another bombardment which forces him to retreatback to his shelter.

The gloom is graduallyrelieved and a lighter tone introduced as the US army makes its entrance, takesover the palace lawn and arranges for a photo call to picture their most famouscapture of the war.

There then followsHirohito's meeting with US commander-in-chief General McArthur (Dawson) beforehis touching reunion with the Empress (Mamoi). By this stage the humanisationof Japan's supreme ruler, begun only hours earlier, is complete, and the royalcouple actually seem relieved not to carry their divine obligations any longer.

Many Japanese, however,cannot shoulder the change in circumstances: the soundman who recorded theofficial broadcast in which Hirohito made his declaration, commits hara-kirifor having lent, even involuntarily, a hand in the proceedings.

Issei Ogata, who is inalmost every shot, offers a frail, almost childlike but profoundly touchingperformance as Hirohito, whether he is acting like the official emblem he issupposed to represent or calmly rebelling against it. At one point he comparespictures in his family album to famous snapshots of Hollywood stars, beforeventuring to emulate Chaplin for a few moments, to the accompaniment of a BachCello Suite.

His encounter with McArthurlends the picture an unexpectedly contemporary significance, as the General,who has just invaded Japan, airs his views on American expansionist politics('we don't need to conquer other countries, all we need is to buy theirproducts'). It is a remark that takes on added resonance in view ofeverything that has happened since, down to the current situation in Iraq andelsewhere.

The Sun makes for a visually impressive experience, despitethe constant half-light predominant in all the interiors that also impacts onexteriors as well. That said it is essentially a static film (the Emperor'smoves are restricted to the shelter in which he passes most of his time afterthe destruction of his imperial residence), moodily shot by Sokurov himself inslow, deliberate, precisely framed shots

Andrey Sigle's powerfulscore, sprinkled here and there with touches of Bach and Wagner, is highlyeffective, as are whatever can be gleaned of Yuri Kuper's the intentionalobscured sets.

Prod cos: Nikola Film, Proline Film, Downtown Pics, MACT Prods,Riforma Film
Igor Kalenov, AndreySigle, Marco Muller
Int'l sales:
The Works
Yuri Arabov
Alexander Sokurov
Sergey Ivanov
Prod des:
Yuri Kuper
Andrey Sigle
Main cast:
Issei Ogata, RobertDawson, Kaori Momoi, Shiro Sano, Shinmei Tsuji, Tajiro Tamura, GeorgyPitskherauli