Friday, July 14, 2017
Anime DVDs You May Have Missed: “Space Firebird 2772”
Publisher: Madman Entertainment (Australia)
Format: Region 4 DVD, PAL, Japanese Dialogue with optional English Dub and English Subtitles
Length: 121 minutes
Production Date: 1980
English Version Release Date: 21 June 2006
Currently in Print (as of writing): No
Note: Originally posted on the "Anime Archivist" blog in December 2012.
One thing I wanted to do with my old blog but never got around to was to write about anime and tokusatsu DVDs that were practically ignored by western fandom. The majority of these releases are non R1 (US and Canadian releases) discs, though there a number of US releases which never got much exposure and languished in obscurity. Some of these titles are unappreciated classics, some are guilty pleasures and some are downright hideous. However I believe all of them should have been noticed a bit more than what they were. First up is a relatively obscure English dubbed and subtitled Australian release of Osamu Tezuka's “Space Firebird 2772”.
Until recent times, anime releases in Australia have pretty much been dupes of either UK or US releases. As the US industry began to falter a few years back, and with the re-emergence of Siren Visual as a serious competitor in the anime market, a trickle of English anime releases that hadn’t previously had US or UK releases began to filter through. This is one of the first, and content wise, it was quite amazing that it even got released in the first place. Seriously, a (then) 25 year old anime film which veers strangely from very serious drama to rather odd Disney-like musical interludes? And in a tiny video market like Australia? So why did this title get a DVD release? The most likely reason was at the time Madman was releasing number of old anime by the God of manga, Osamu Tezuka, such as the 1960’s and 1980’s versions of “Astroboy” and “Kimba the White Lion”. I suppose it was a natural progression for Madman to seek out other Tezuka material. They must have thought they lucked out with this film which came with a pre-existing English dub, pretty much a prerequisite for any Madman anime release. One can only imagine the rights for the film were also quite cheap.
Godoh uses this opportunity to go out beyond the city limit to a beach with Olga. There he spots something in the distance. Olga flies off to investigate and returns with a flower. The two of them have discovered the flower garden where the elite of society, “the Elders”, live. There Godoh meets Lena. Though it is forbidden because they are from two different classes, the two of them start seeing each other. One night a patrol spots Godoh in the garden with Lena. The two of them flee in an air car, but after a long chase which ends in them crashing their car, Godoh is taken away to be sentenced. Olga along with Lena’s alien servant, Pincho, hide in the wreck of the car and escape when the coast is clear. Rock, destined to be married to Lena, takes away Godoh’s citizenship and sends him to Iceland to endure hard labour on the mantle energy project, which is designed to harness geothermal energy as solution to Earth’s energy problems. There Godoh is befriended by a fellow inmate and scientist, Dr Salta, who asks him to escape and search after Cosmozone 2772, the Phoenix, which its blood is said to be able to revitalise the Earth.
This version of “Phoenix” was apparently created in response to the failure of Tezuka’s 1978 live action “Firebird: Daybreak Chapter”. Like that film, this animated version is far too ambitious for its own good. I’ve always found much of Tezuka’s animated output rather problematic. I do like many of his short experimental films, the 1980 remake of “Astoboy” (which was a personal childhood favourite), “Blackjack” OVAs and most of the adaptations of “Jungle Emperor”. But often I find there are just far too many ideas in his animated works and more often than not it becomes a jumbled mess. “Phoenix 2772” is no different. There’s a number of competing ideas in the film. Most noteworthy is the animation itself. Typically Japanese animation is divided up into separate “cuts” (shots) and an animator does that particular shot. But in this film, Tezuka used the Disney model for most of the film’s animation, where an animator was assigned a character and they were responsible for only animating that character for the entire film. Whether or not there is any noticeable difference in comparison to a normal anime film with a film with this kind of budget (reportedly several million dollars), is debatable at best. Other animation techniques are more apparent, such as filming a model of the Space Shark and then rotoscoping the film onto animation paper. There’s also the stunning single continuous shot of journey from Gotoh’s living quarters to the Science Centre at the beginning of the film. The camera pans up from Olga and Gotoh travelling in their air car and flies above the highway and city and then eventually comes back down again as he car arrives at its destination. This part of the film comes right at the end of a ten minute sequence introducing the Phoenix and showing Gotoh’s childhood. There isn’t a single word spoken in that time. Yep, no dialogue at all for the first ten minutes of the film. That’s some really ballsy film making there.
The script, co-written by director Taku Sugiyama and Tezuka himself is also a bit of a mess. Certainly the overall plot is really quite intriguing. It’s partly a retelling of Pinocchio with bits of Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” thrown in, wrapped around Buddhist philosophies regarding reincarnation. And to top it all off, at its core it’s also a love story and an environmental parable. But the addition of really cutesy characters such as Crack and Pooks and other rather odd elements such as the musical interludes derail the story to a large degree. I also think there is way too much plot to fit in a two hour film. Certainly a number of plot elements such as Olga’s jealousy over Lena and Gotoh’s relationship, are not explored adequately enough. The film could have done with some trimming and discarding of some minor plot points. Like most of his other works, Tezuka’s “star system” was in full swing in this film. Characters used in previous works here include Rock, Saruta, Shunsuke Ban (or Higeoyagi, subtitled on the DVD as “Van”), Boon, Blackjack, and Acetylene Lamp who has a small cameo.