Title Page

Bells and Whistles
San Diego, 1980

Missing Scenes
Familiar Faces
Comic Adaptation



The Forgotten Firebird

samu Tezuka, "the God of Comics", is probably the name most often mentioned in connection with modern Japanese comics and animation. And of his many works the epic Phoenix saga is one of the most famous. One would expect a theatrical film based on the series to become an instant classic - especially if one of the creators was Tezuka himself - but it did not happen.
       Hi-no tori 2772: ai-no kosumozo:n, a theatrical animation, color, two hours and one minute long, directed by Taku Sugiyama with story and general direction by Osamu Tezuka, was released by Toho in 1980, but never enjoyed popularity.
       Tezuka reportedly blamed the public - they were not ready, he said, - but time did not improve things much.
       In 1983 the film was broadcast on the Japanese TV, shortened to 94 minutes by none else than Tezuka himself. Several scenes were cut, which did not help the story and made the pacing awkward. Fans of the original were disappointed, and new viewers did not like it either.
       When the film was later released on video and laser disc in Japan, it was the same edited version. As a result even among Tezuka's most ardent fans the majority believes that this film is best forgotten.

       In the USA there were other problems.
       Tezuka brought the film to the San Diego Comic Convention in 1980, right after the Japanese premiere. It was well received. At San Diego Tezuka himself was awarded the Inkpot Award for his career, and the film in the same year won the Animation Award at the 1st Las Vegas Film Festival. However, the film never ran in theatres or on television, and the general public did not get a chance to see it.
       Only in 1995 the film was released in North America on video, dubbed in English, by Best Film & Video under the title "Phoenix 2772". It was full two hours long, but otherwise did the original little credit. The translation was clumsy (and very inaccurate), and opinions on the dubbing ranged from "not very convincing" to "probably the worst ever inflicted on an English-speaking audience". In addition, sides of the picture were lost in transfer from widescreen to video. This resulted in weird scenes where two characters talking from the opposite sides of the screen would both be invisible save for an occasional pointing finger. Naturally, it never became popular.

       The film seems to have fared best in Europe under the title "Space Firebird", 115 minutes long. There were two German releases, dubbed, as one reviewer says, with "slightly hysterical but serviceable" voices. The translation must have been good, because Space Firebird is still remembered well by anime fans.
       In Russia the film played on state television in the early nineties, most likely translated from the Japanese LD version. In 1998 I saw it again, on the big screen at the Moscow Cinema Center, when the Japanese Embassy celebrated Tezuka's 70th anniversary by a screening of his animated works.

       In July 2003 Toho finally released the uncut Hi-no tori 2772 on DVD - hugely overpriced, with neither subtitles nor a second language track, but still the best way to experience the original in our digital era.
       And in June 2006 the English-speaking world, or at least part of it, has finally got a chance to see a less mangled translation as Madman, an Australian entertainment distribution company, has released the film on DVD under the title Space Firebird 2772 with - finally - passable subtitles. Unfortunately the English soundtrack is still the same old Best Film and Video dub from 1995.

Anna Panina
October 2006

Top of page