“Phoenix” (Fushichô, 1947)

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Although running only 82 minutes, the three-hankie weepie (josei eiga) “Phoenix” (Fushichô, 1947) seems even more padded than it is overwrought. There are three songs, one sung by children accompanied by the evacuated Sayoko (then-38-year-old Tanaka Kinuyo, who would eventually play the 70-year-old eager to be carried out and exposed to die in “The Ballad of Narayama” eleven years later), two by the lover of her life, and very briefly her husband, Shinichi (Sada Keiji in his first movie). Most of the movie is Sayoko remembering the brief happiness of their honeymoon while he was on leave before returning to the war to die or his father’s opposition to a marriage not arranged by himself (Kosuji Isamu with a Tojo mustache).

I couldn’t tell when Sayoko went into the army. The present-day with Sayoko the honored widow has a fourth birthday party for her son with Shinichi, so he was probably conceived in 1943, born in 1944. The Tokyo in the flashbacks to the time of Shinichi going off the first time do not seem to show the dire straits of the city, and both families seem well off both during and immediately after the war. (The heavy B-29 firebombing was in 1944-45, continuing on the night before surrender documents were scheduled by be signed.)

Watching Tanaka suffer, I reflected that some of the sentimentality rightly identified in many Kinoshita Keisuke films comes from the music his brother Chûji supplied (here supplemented by Chopin and some folk songs).

Some more comes from the idealistic and ultra-supportive brothers of both lovers, the tubercular Hiroshi (Kawasaki Tamotsu) Sayoko’s, and the earnest Yûji (Yamanouchi Akira) Shinichi’s.

The movie is very talky and the visual setups are nearly as static as those in Ozu films, though the shots are well-composed. And I have to say that I find the 1947 Tanaka Kinuyo herein rather homely.

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