Sun Scarred

Original title
Taiyo no Kizu
Japanese title
  • 太陽の傷
Running time
117 minutes
23 April 2009
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The handful of high-profile films directed these past few years by Takashi Miike have left a number of his more modest productions in the shadow. The two-parter Waru, Tantei Monogatari, and Sun Scarred have all gone unusually unnoticed in these days in which any product of Miike's mind has its commercial future pretty much assured. In the case of Waru, a quickly shot adaptation of a manga written by his old mentor and collaborator Hisao Maki (Family, Silver), this is no surprise. However, the lack of attention paid to Sun Scarred seems all the more remarkable because it has to be counted among Miike's more emphatic and substantial films.

The plotline follows the trail of Park Chan-wook's Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. Although the connection between the two works is more typological than genetic, their proximity in space and time and the fact that both films follow the footsteps of a father who avenges his little daughter are some of the elements that call for attention. Sun Scarred's starting point is Katayama (Aikawa), a regular Japanese office worker, returning home late after work. As he makes his way to celebrate his birthday with his wife and daughter at home, he runs into a bunch of teens beating up a homeless man. A few seconds of hesitation follow. What should he do? Should he step in to stop the beating and get himself into trouble, or should he keep riding home with a guilty conscience? He intercedes, of course, and creates a sort of Butterfly Effect that will lead him into an insane chain of events, since the obsessive leader of the gang will end up taking revenge on Katayama's daughter. The press portrays the kid as the helpless victim of Katayama's excessively violent intervention and set the public opinion against the hapless salaryman.

Miike proposes the viewer an exercise in visceral empathy and plays, as usual, the devil's advocate in order to highlight some of the contradictions that a developed country ruled by laws can produce. He aims to shake without qualm some of the pillars of Japanese democracy such as freedom of speech or underage legislation. As is his wont, the director presents violence as something that can be justified or, at least, understood, just to avoid its categorical inclusion in the sack of evil. Among other things, Sun Scarred reminds us that the headlines of newspapers and TV reports on accidents and crimes can be nothing but the tip of an iceberg that hides a more complex story beneath. A story full of relevant details overlooked by the media's partial and opportunistic view.

Those who are familiar with the work of novelist and thinker Yukio Mishima will notice how much the script of Sun Scarred is indebted to Mishima's short novel The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea. We should ask Miike or screenwriter Toshimichi Okawa for confirmation, but it is a fact that Mishima's well-known novel already offered a bloodcurdling and painfully romantic vision of the adolescent insurgence against the world of adults. A world filled with rules, detestable routines, and conveniences that push men into lethargy and to conform to a conjunction of elements that prevent them from untying their deepest passions of glory, love, and violence. Protected by Japanese legislation stating that no person under the age of fourteen can be imprisoned, not even for having committed a murder, the group of teenagers playing the lead in Mishima's novel decides to perpetrate a murder while they're still 13 years old. The insistence on this aspect of Japan's legislation is where the novel and Miike's film converge. A character from the latter will paraphrase Mishima with the crushing exclamation: "Being 13 years old is like having a license to kill". In addition, the movie features one of the young psychopaths putting his killing skills to the test on a poor stray cat, just like the teenage bunch do in the novel. However (of course!), Miike turns the tables by moving from a kid who shows no mercy for adults to an adult who shows no mercy for kids. In doing so, he will turn the typical Japanese salaryman (a figure he smashes in one movie and praises in the next) into a child killer antihero who enjoys the audience's approval.

Sun Scarred is, in short, a film that opens a great many questions and controversies and closes few of them. This is a movie that unties a tension between extremes, a real tragedy which finally refers to the thesis of irreversibility set out by Gaspar Noé in his most famous as well as most vilified work. Though probably more coincidental than the similarities with Mishima outlined above, the final sequence of Sun Scarred sees Sho Aikawa taking equal sadistic delight in pounding on his adversary as Albert Dupontel in Irreversible's memorable fire extinguisher scene.