Review by Jack Foley
BRAD Haynes’ Broken Sun is a powerful, if downbeat, war drama that examines the emotional cost of battle from both sides of the conflicts it examines.
It’s based around one of the most infamous chapters in Australian history – the Cowra Breakout of 1944 in New South Wales, in which 545 Japanese PoWs escaped – and offers an intriguing, occasionally moving insight into the two characters involved.
On the one hand, there’s Jack (played by Jai Koutrae), a lonely famer and World War I veteran, who is often visited by the ghost of a friend who died in combat in The Somme, while on the other there’s escaped Japanese prisoner, Masaru (Shingo Asami), who Jack stumbles upon and reluctantly takes in following the breakout.
The slow-burning tale that ensues revolves around the tentative friendship that forms between these two men as they await the arrival of Australian troops. But it’s also punctuated by numerous flashbacks to key war-time events in both men’s lives, whether it’s the experiences of Jack in the trenches of WWI or those of Masaru in the jungle, or pre escape.
It’s clear that both men carry ghosts… whether they are manifested in the guilty they carry for combat mis-deeds, or confusion over their place in the world (or what remains of it for them). For Masaru, in particular, there is a desperate need to understand his decision to want to live, which flies in the face of the orders of his superiors who asked many of the PoWs to commit suicide rather than face recapture or a return home in disgrace.
Haynes, as co-writer and director, deserves a lot of credit for eschewing conventional methods to get his film made. According to various Australian reviews, he and producers and Sasha Huckstepp and Corey Lazzarotto raised the small budget for the six-week shoot without government subsidy and opted to distribute Broken Sun independently through selected cinemas.
It’s a fantastic achievement – not without flaws – that certainly doesn’t look rushed or low budget and which fully merits its international release.
It’s also beautifully shot, with the lush Australian countryside providing a stark contrast to the grim mud of the trenches or some of the grisly finds involving escaped prisoners, and nicely acted, especially by Koutrae and Asami.
Admittedly, the overall tone is unrelentingly downbeat and Haynes sometimes finds himself a little too much at pains to portray the horror of war, and its emotional cost… seldom allowing his men to talk about anything else, or even flashback to happier times (that may have informed some small part of their lives before combat).
But given the budget constraints, you can understand why the director tried to avoid broadening the film’s scope too far, especially since he still manages to create the jungle scenes and trench sequences with a great degree of authenticity.
What results, is a thought-provoking character study that provides a timely reminder – if ever one was needed – of the sustained effects of war on the young men asked to fight it. Haynes, meanwhile, certainly deserves to continue making films on a much bigger canvas.
In some ways, his recounting of the Japanese experience of war is comparable (and favourably so) to major studio productions such as Clint Eastwood’s Letters From Iwo Jima, which is no small praise!
In English and Japanese, with subtitles
Running time: 92mins
UK DVD Release: December 27, 2010