Movies · Reviews

NYAFF 2015, Day 6: The Man Who Stole the Sun Is a Ball of Japanese Wonder

By  · Published on July 1st, 2015

Kitty Enterprises

The New York Asian Film Festival returns for a 14th year showcasing an exciting and eclectic mix of movies from Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand, Taiwan, China and Malaysia. This year brings a total of 54 feature films including two world premieres and three international premieres, and while I’m once again unfortunately unable to experience the fest on the ground in NYC I’m excited to cover as much as I can remotely.

Day five of the festival features two films, The Man Who Stole the Sun and Revivre.

NYAFF 2015 runs June 26th through July 11th. Follow our coverage here.

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Makato Kido (Kenji Sawada) has come here to chew bubble gum and build an atomic bomb, and he has everything he needs for both endeavors. Well, almost everything. He’s been spying on a nearby nuclear power plant knowing that the last ingredient on his shopping list – plutonium – is somewhere inside, but he has plenty to keep him busy while waiting for the perfect opportunity. He teaches a high school science class, tests homemade knockout gas on his beloved cat and acts as chaperon on a class trip.

It’s that last endeavor that lands him, along with a bus filled with students, as hostage to a befuddled but heavily armed madman. They’re rescued by the hard-ass, crew-cutted Det. Yamashita (Bunta Sugawara), and once Kido builds his bomb Yamashita is the cop he picks as negotiator. Kido’s not looking to actually blow up the city – well, probably not – but he does use his newfound leverage to get baseball games aired in their entirety and The Rolling Stones to be allowed to perform in Japan. The two men face off against each other with the fates of millions between them, but it’s tough fighting a battle against an opponent with confusing motivations.

Kazuhiko Hasegawa’s The Man Who Stole the Sun is a 147-minute ball of wonder. That’s not to say it’s perfect – it’s far from that – but its mix of satire, history, action and commentary offers something unique and constantly engaging.

The film is in no hurry to identify itself either. After opening with a mood-setting shot of Kido spying on the plant we jump to a montage of his daily routine that starts with the long, dull grind of the daily commute. Comments from students and Kido’s own physical appearance mark him as a man uninterested in fitting in to the norm, and while he builds his weapon – in elaborate, time-consuming detail – to the sounds of Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up” he’s clearly not becoming a terrorist for legitimate political protest. He sees an image of himself in the atomic core he creates, but he’s not so self serious that he can’t have fun teaching his bewildered students how to build their own bombs.

The tone is equally difficult to pin down as it moves between genres and moods smoothly and frequently. One minute he’s disguising himself as a woman, the next his cat is dying an accidental death before his eyes. An epic, Blues Brothers-like cop car chase is followed with a dramatic death and the incredibly haunting image of a pool filled with children, dead by his own hand. Through it all the score (Takayuki Inoue) keeps pace with emotional and exciting riffs.

The script, co-written by Hasegawa and Leonard Schrader (Paul Schrader’s brother), brings these various elements together alongside an underlying theme of chaos. Kido shares the history of the atomic bomb, from the U.S.’s first success at controlling the atom in 1942 through its devastating use on Japan and up to the the list of other countries who’ve since added it to their arsenal – he tells the police to call him Number Nine, as in the 9th “nation” to get an A-bomb – and when someone comments that there are no more interesting crimes he sees his actions as a reaction to the humdrum.

The Man Who Stole the Sun is a rare, unique creation that lacks a single dull moment along its two plus hours. Saweda brings a casual intensity to his role while Sugawara solidifies his no b.s. persona with a true tough guy – seriously, you’ve rarely seen a tougher cop in a movie. It’s a constantly evolving drama punctuated with silliness, big action and a romanticized view of standing up for a cause – regardless of whether or not you even know which case you’re fighting for.

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NYAFF 2015 runs June 26th through July 11th. Follow our coverage here.

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.