Spotlight on Japan: The Man Who Stole the Sun

Kazuhiro Hasegawa’s The Man Who Stole the Sun is a tragedy. With the word ‘tragedy’ I don’t mean the pessimistic sort of drama where things go awry for the characters, but instead I call the film a tragedy because it is such a waste of great potential and passion. In a way I could say that I was entertained throughout the 147-minute running time, but that would only be the case if I completely ignored its flaws. Why would I do that? Because The Man Who Stole the Sun is so utterly fascinating that I would like to live under the illusion that it is a great film instead of facing the reality.

The main character is Makoto Kido, a young teacher who spends more time acting against the norms and being self-indulgent rather than fitting in with the system. For some inexplainable reason he’s obsessed with building a nuclear bomb – as if to fill a void in his life with it. That might be a thematically relevant point, but it is impossible to understand what the film is aiming for exactly. The characters are only concerned about either their work or causing chaos that makes no sense. There are suggestions that most of the population have lost their sense of reality, but not much is done with that notion. It’s hard to figure out what the film wants to imply since there are so many things going on, but none of them are given a coherent treatment. In other words, there is a lack of focus on things other than the fascinating interaction between Kido and the cop chasing him (Yamashita). Why is the teacher such a misfit? What is the significance of Inspector Yamashita?

The film opens with a fast and vivid introduction that works miraculously well only to be stopped harshly about 15 minutes into the film. The rest of the film unfolds in a slow and extremely detailed way that is initially off-putting but ultimately great. The creation of the bomb is portrayed in detail for more than 30 minutes. It sets the film firmly in reality and gives the film a unique sort of atmosphere that is beneficial later in the film. Granted, the pacing is challenging, but if you are willing to give it a chance you will be rewarded.

While the writing might be a gigantic failure the form is immensely better. The editing shows genuine virtuosity in most scenes and the montages are very well done. I only have one small problem with the cutting and it’s limited to one certain sequence which has an abundance of frozen frames and rapid cutting. Hasegawa makes use of pretty much every single visual trick of the 70’s (and even more), but all of it comes together quite neatly. The camera movement is surprisingly immersive and cinematography in general genuinely impressive. It does not look like a common 70’s film from Japan even though it could have easily gone that way. The soundtrack is good, but it is quite forgettable in the end.

The Man Who Stole the Sun is an ambitious, grand production that fails to identify what it wants to be. But the thing is, the movie manages to be more or less entertaining despite all of its flaws. It manages to provoke thoughts even though it comes to no conclusion on its own. The ending suggests that the film was a serious project and not meant to be a crowd pleaser since it does not take the easy way and instead closes on a mysterious and ambiguous note. I respect Hasegawa for trying so hard to make this mess work.

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About Oz
A Finnish film buff who has taken a huge interest in language and Japanese cinema. Can be contacted via email (johlauri@hotmail.com), Twitter (@OzymandiasJL) and a Private Message on EvaGeeks (Oz).

3 Responses to Spotlight on Japan: The Man Who Stole the Sun

  1. Pingback: Stefan’s R&A: Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance « Forced Perspective

  2. Johnny says:

    I just saw (and blogged) about this film and while I agree with you in that it’s a bit of a mess which doesn’t seem to have any underlying purpose, I don’t think it’s entertaining despite this. It’s strange you say the editing is also very good – I think had the film been edited entirely differently, cutting out about half an hour, it would feel a lot more focused and engaging. The editing to me was one of the main reasons it’s a mess.

    • I meant that the editing worked very well on a smaller scale. Individual parts of the film are very captivating and thanks to that I always felt there was something to look forward to in the film. But yeah, if you consider the editing of the film as a whole, it’s messy.

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