A quiet, period-set Aussie drama about displacement and redemption, Broken Sun is at once substantive and spare. Staged around the famous 1944 Cowra Breakout (where interned Japanese prisoners staged a mass escape, resulting in the deaths of four Australians and 231 Japanese), the film is essentially a two-hander between a dispirited war veteran, Jack (Jai Koutrae), and Masaru (Shingo Usami), a lost and suicidal Japanese soldier who has escaped internment. Debuting director Brad Haynes engages conventional flashback sequences to fortify both men's characters.
As a farmer in a uniform, Jack hit the trenches of WW1 as a young man and, to his great shame, was unable to rescue or mercy-kill his best mate. By the time that Masaru – another simple man in a complex situation – shows up in the scrubby landscape of the Central West of NSW, Jack is a broken-down old man, drunk and dissolute. Over the next day or so, their commonality becomes increasingly evident, and an uneasy truce is brokered. As has been well-recorded (and also shown in the acclaimed 1984 TV mini-series The Cowra Breakout), Japanese soldiers of the era were instructed to avoid capture by any means (which expressly includes suicide) – an inclination that strikes at the core of Jack's own secreted needs.
With landscape cinematography vigorous enough to qualify as its own character, and an ear for subtlety within the taciturn Australiana spoken by Jack, the filmmakers have constructed a local history film at once stark and comprehensive, unpretentious but expansive. Theirs is a land wherein fate is so obstinate and disruptive that not even a hermitic existence on the edge of civilisation can escape it. However, as Masaru's inexorable end attests, even against such stacked odds, the simplest human compassion can cut through, making the difference between desolation and deliverance.
Starting off with its stunning cinematography, Broken Sun succeeds on a number of levels, but particularly in its capacity to personalise and make powerful, real moments in Australian history.