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Last Updated: Saturday, 5 August 2006, 15:39 GMT 16:39 UK
Hirohito film makes Tokyo debut
Emperor Hirohito
Experts are divided on Emperor Hirohito's legacy
A controversial Russian film portraying Japan's World War II Emperor Hirohito has opened to large audiences in Tokyo.

Solntse (The Sun) suggests the emperor may have been morally responsible for Japan's often brutal militaristic past.

The war in Asia, and the emperor's role in particular, are highly sensitive subjects in Japan, and are rarely discussed in the country's media.

However, the film's distributor says cinemas showing the film were so packed some audience members had to stand.

Emperor Hirohito was the longest-reigning monarch in Japan's history, ruling from 1926 until his death in 1989.

'Divine ruler'

Emperor Hirohito
Emperor Hirohito relinquished his divine status after World War II
During the Second World War, Japanese soldiers fought in his name in the belief he was divine - a belief that was shattered when Hirohito announced the country's defeat on 15 August, 1945.

In an historic radio broadcast on 1 January, 1946, the Emperor repudiated the quasi-divine status of Japan's rulers.

Opinion remains divided on Hirohito's legacy. Many Japanese see him as being a benign figure out of touch with his militarist cabinet, while others insist he was intimately involved in the planning of the war.

Solntse deals with the period between Japan's defeat and Hirohito's declaration that he was human.

The emperor, played by Japanese actor Issei Ogata, is portrayed as a man of solitude and grief.

The film was shown at the Berlin International Film Festival in February 2005 and has been screened in 12 countries.

'Fears of violence'

But the film has not been seen in Japan until now, and on its opening night was only seen in two cinemas.

The film's distributor said the delay occurred because of fears that conservatives would protest at the portrayal of the Hirohito and the royal family.

"People were really worried about the chance of violence from right wing groups, so companies were fearful of buying the rights," said Michio Koshikawa, head of distribution firm Slow Learner Ltd.

"But I think the movie will be a good chance to discuss the whole issue of Emperor Hirohito," he told Reuters news agency.

"Being able to talk freely about Emperor Hirohito would show that things in Japan had finally normalised."

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