The first few minutes of “The Sun Stands Still” are like something out of an anxiety dream. A Japanese agent in a foreign land has to dodge assailants while trying to check in with his employers, before they terminate his contract via a bomb implanted in his chest.
Anyone who’s spent the past year working remotely while dealing with overzealous bosses may find this hits a little too close to home.
Eiichiro Hasumi’s big-budget thriller, based on a series of novels by Shuichi Yoshida, follows the exploits of a pair of corporate spies who give literal meaning to the phrase “walking time bomb.” If they go offline for more than 24 hours during a mission, it’s assumed that they’ve been compromised, and they self-destruct.
|Rating||out of 5|
|Run Time||110 min.|
This macabre plot device is put to most entertaining use in the film’s Bulgaria-shot opening sequence, in which an operative has to deactivate his bomb using an automated phone menu, while all hell breaks loose around him.
Though Hasumi seems oblivious to the inherent humor in the scenario (seriously, a phone menu?), this set piece is heaps of fun, featuring some vicious fisticuffs, a car chase through the streets of Sofia and a judiciously applied rocket launcher.
It introduces us to experienced spy Kazuhiko Takano (Tatsuya Fujiwara) and his younger partner, Ryoichi Taoka (Ryoma Takeuchi), who soon find themselves clashing with gangsters, corporate crooks and double agents, all of whom are trying to get their paws on a revolutionary new solar power technology.
When the intrepid duo don suits and head to a ball in Vienna, it seems like the film might offer a Japanese answer to the “Mission: Impossible” movies. But any momentum is immediately lost as the story rewinds to Kazuhiko’s youth, then stays there for far longer than it needs to.
This turns out to be the first in a series of flashbacks that pop up seemingly at random, hitting the brakes whenever things start to get interesting. These scenes are stiffly played and agonizingly dull, and the emotional payoff that might have justified their outsized presence never materializes.
They leave little room for the film to develop Kazuhiko’s relationship with Ryoichi, though perhaps that gets more screen time in the film’s accompanying TV spin-off, released simultaneously on subscription channel Wowow. This multi-platform approach recalls Hasumi’s earlier “Mozu,” an entertaining TV show that spawned a very lousy 2015 theatrical release.
Like that movie, “The Sun Stands Still” manages to feel overblown and underwhelming at the same time. Its mix of stoicism and sentimentality makes for an unpalatable brew, and the constant globe-trotting yields diminishing returns.
Fujiwara feels particularly miscast as the film’s Tom Cruise stand-in: For all his physical commitment to the role, Kazuhiko isn’t so much an international man of mystery as the kind of cocktail party guest you can’t wait to get away from. He’s upstaged by Korean stars Han Hyo-joo and Byun Yo-han — playing a pair of stylish antagonists — who deliver just the light touch the movie needed.
A Hollywood rendition of this story would inevitably involve the hero turning against his employers, but the thought never seems to occur to Kazuhiko. As he tells Ryoichi: if you want to stay alive, you’ve got to keep working. Now where’s the glamour in that?
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