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September 29, 2011

Black Sun

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Kuroi taiyo
Koreyoshi Kurahara - 1964
Eclipse Region 1 DVD

Black Sun isn't a sequel to The Warped Ones, but it does continue some of the themes, and even reuses one of the settings. It's also, at least for me, a difficult film to get a handle on. I'm not sure about what Kurahara is trying to say about race and religion.

Tamio Kawachi returns as the young jazz fanatic, Mei, a less animated version of the character he played in the earlier film. Stealing enough wire to get cash for the Max Roach album, Black Sun, he no sooner steps out of the record store only to have it dropped on the street when he's almost hit by a car. The high heeled female passenger blithely steps on the album, breaking it. The driver gives some money to Mei as payment. As far as Mei is concerned, the cash isn't enough, and he steals the couple's car.

Not getting ready payment from a fence, Mei is given an old beater to drive in the interim. The car is so slow that bicyclists complain about Mei getting in the way. Mei stops in the street due to a crowd gathered to see a soldier, part of the U.S. occupation troops, pulled out of a river. The military police warn about a fugitive soldier on the loose with a machine gun.

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Mei is squatting in a bombed out church. It's also where the fugitive, a black G.I. named Gil is hiding. While using the same actor, Chico Roland, and the same character name as in The Warped Ones, the similarity ends there. Gil has a bullet wound in the leg. Akira is oblivious to Gil's physical pain, instead overjoyed at the presence of a black American in his life. And at this point the film raises lots of questions for me.

Mei only understanding of black America is through music. Posters of various musicians cover his walls. His dog is named Thelonious Monk. As far as Mei is concerned, Gil should be able to play music and sing for him. Gil tries to control the situation with his machine gun. Aside from the language barrier, the two men battle for control over each other while simultaneously trying to elude the law. More questionable is a scene where Mei paints Gil white, and displays him to his friends at the jazz club, the same one seen in The Warped Ones, as his slave while Mei goes out in blackface.

And maybe I am misreading Kurahara's intentions here, especially watching a film almost forty years old, and yanked from some of its cultural contexts. What I am seeing is a study about how "the other" is made to be exotic, to be idealized. And it could be something I may well be guilty of as well. What Black Sun presents is such an idealization in extreme, as well as its opposite, when Mei humiliates Gil, again devoid of really understanding the implications of his actions from the point of view of a black American.

In this same way, I am also not certain what Kurahara is trying to say about Christianity. There are several shots of Gil's crucifix. At one point Gil prays to one of the ruined church statues. There are also other shots of religious symbols within the church Gil and Mei hide in, as well as another church Gil sees when the pair are on the run. The symbolism at the end of the film, where Gil literally ascends to the heavens is open to interpretation.

The music for the jazzy scores for Black Sun and The Warped Ones have been recently made available on CD. Certainly, Kurahara has been musically aided by Toshiro Mayuzumi, as experimental in his soundtracks as Kurahara has been in his filmmaking.

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Posted by Peter Nellhaus at September 29, 2011 08:53 AM