07/01/15 8:00am
07/01/2015 8:00 AM |


The Man Who Stole the Sun (1979)
Directed by Kazuhiko Hasegawa
The phrase “the great whatsit” may originate from Robert Aldrich’s Kiss Me Deadly to refer to a case of deadly radioactive material, but it could also apply to the crazily ambitious narrative of Hasegawa’s similarly nuclear-bomb-related The Man Who Stole the Sun. What is this movie? On one level, it’s a deadpan comedy of terrorism, in which its main character, Makoto (Kenji Sawada), preys on his country’s Hiroshima- and Nagasaki-inspired fears of nuclear annihilation to force the government to fulfill the most trivial of tasks—including allowing the Rolling Stones to play in Japan. But the film is also a Taxi Driver-like character study of a disturbed individual: much of its first hour is devoted to simply observing Makoto painstakingly creating the homemade nuclear bombs that will be his leverage against the government. (Intriguingly, Hasegawa’s film was co-written by Leonard Schrader, brother of Taxi Driver scribe Paul. Artistic sibling rivalry?) And there’s even a thread of Network-style media satire evidenced in the character of radio host Zero Sawai (Kimiko Ikegami), who seems to have no qualms about exploiting Makoto for the sake of higher ratings. Hovering above it all is a police procedural, as detective Yamashita (that legendary icon of gruff machismo Bunta Sugawara) tries to catch this mad maybe-bomber—a man he has, in fact, met before, in the midst of a bus hijacking early on in the film. Whatever The Man Who Stole the Sun is, it’s completely, deliriously unpredictable moment-by-moment—a truly singular work ripe for rediscovery. Kenji Fujishima (July 1, 6pm at the Film Society of Lincoln Center, as part of the New York Asian Film Festival‘s sidebar tribute to the late Bunta Sugawara)