Picks and Pans Review: Prisoners of the Sun

updated 08/05/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/05/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Bryan Brown, Sokyu Fujita

One theme of this Australian film about a 1945 war-crimes trial—individual conscience vs. social duty—would seem to have been fairly well covered by this time.

Another subtext—a vague combination of anti-American and anti-Japanese sentiments—may make some sense in Australia but isn't likely to win too many advocates here.

Yet, burdens aside, the movie's human drama, concise direction by Stephen Wallace and extraordinary acting make it an absorbing experience.

The story is based on a real massacre of Australian prisoners at a Japanese camp in Indonesia. Brown is an Australian Army lawyer charged in December 1945 with prosecuting the Japanese soldiers responsible.

Brown confronts obstacles on all sides. The Australian prisoners are either dead or too sick to testify. The Japanese stonewall is led by Star Trek's George Takei as a naval officer. American observer Terry O'Quinn is around to protect Takei, who is going to be in the U.S. puppet government ruling Japan.

Brown also has to contend with Fujita, a Japanese lawyer who has been called in to defend Takei and his men. In a remarkably shaded performance, Fujita embodies the shame, pride, fear, dignity and confusion of a man torn by a sense of duty to himself, his country and his profession.

John Polson, as an enfeebled former POW, and Toshi Shioya, as a Japanese officer who seems a model of innocence, are among the trial witnesses. The anguish they personify is more moving than the increasingly stilted dialogue Brown has to wrestle with toward the end: "The future of the world isn't worked out on a grand scale. It's worked out by ordinary bloody people doing ordinary bloody jobs."

With all the Big Statement summations, the movie's eloquence lies in depicting the individual tragedies that are the result of war and cruelty.

John Bach, as Brown's superior, might be speaking of the film itself when he says, "There are many questions that cannot be resolved. Not in this court." (R)

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