The Phoenix

HIMIKO. 1974

Director: Masahiro Shinoda

THE PHOENIX
(HINOTORI) 1978

Director: Kon Ichikawa

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl



Himiko (1974) is a name for Yametsu-hime (Princess Yametsu) known in China as Pimiho. She was a Japanese ruler about 238 C.E., according to ancient Chinese records. She quelled barbarian uprisings in Yame (north of Kyushu), & was variously described as queen, oracle, warrior, & priestess.

HimikoUpon her death, one-hundred of her thousand female servants buried themselves (alive) with her. Her thirteen year old daughter, Iyo-hime, ruled after mother's death in 247.

The Chinese, Korean, & Japanese folk tradition about women's position in those ancient times suggest most strongly a matriarchal system was in place, which today's Japanese school children take for granted as a fact.

Yet the film named for her is lurid, arty, excessively stylized soft-core pornography devoid of either historical or legendary credibility. Shima Iwashita the wife of the director plays the titular queen & priestess over the cult of the Sun Goddess Amaterasu.

In this interpretation of her legend, she is scarsely more than a figurehead who takes no advantage of being an alleged sovereign.

HimikoShe goes all mooshy in love with her half-brother Takehiko (Masao Kusakari) but he falls in love with Aguhime (Rie Yokoyama), priestess of the Earth Goddess, making Himoko very jealous.

She ends up assassinated by clan elders because she is sexually out of control.

The film is hamstrung by a recurring problem Japanese directors have with seeing women as anything but powerless victims of sexuality, Shinoda simply tells a bad story in a very uninteresting manner.

Iwashita is a powerful actress but she can do nothing with this material, unlike in, say, Shinoda's The Ballad of Blind Orin (1977) in which the titular character is punished & ultimately dies due to having sexual desire. Even so, Shima Iwashita creates a spectacular portrait of a wandering shamisen player whose cruel fate is cleary unjust.

The PhoenixIn Himiko by contrast Iwashita remains nothing but a cypher. Nor does anything about the film try to evoke this very early period of Japanese history but is more like a dull, minimalist, & archly modern modern experimental play.

The one thing worthy about this film is the presence of the late Tatsumi Hijikata, a rare opportunity for westerners to see this famous butoh dancer with his troupe.

Kon Ichikawa's whimsical uneven "family" film Hinotori (The Phoenix aka Fire Bird) at least makes the attempt to actually deal with a matriarchal setting, with costuming evocative of a prehistoric era, with Mieko Takamine as Queen Himiko.

The PhoenixEven this generally skillful director never comes to grips with the idea of women's power & position being higher than it became in later ages. Adapted from a comic book & mixing live action with the abominably childish animation of Tezuka Osamu, it simply doesn't work as an adult film.

Yet as a children's film, the plot thread, condensed from a comic book series, is so elaborate it would certainly bewilder younger viewers, so it's suited neither for young nor mature viewers.

On the other hand, a child viewer might jettison all the needless elaboration & keep in mind only that everyone is having a big fight over the cartoon bird, which is better drawn in the comic books.

With an impressive cast including Tomisaburo Wakayama as the Yamatai general & Tatsuya Nakadai as the warlord of the Takamagahara, it should have been more interesting if only for the visuals. But even the action is treated spoofily without actually being funny.

For instance, when Wakayama (of "Babycart" series fame) takes a heroic stand, he must do so with an exaggeratedly swollen nose & takes several arrows through the sides of his nose. Pure silliness without story substance.

Really it's hard to understand how either of these crappy films could've originated with such excellent directors.
copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl



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