Kinoshita Keisuke made his first films during the war, and quickly developed a knack to please the wartime censors. Even though "Army" (1944) was a bit controversal, Kinoshita's other early films included much-preferred propaganda about why we are fighting the war, and how we should keep our spirits up. After the war ended, the director was again quick to cope with the situation, turning in "Morning for the Ozone Family" (1946), a highly didactic work that urged the country to venture forward into a new, peaceful sunrise.
Then followed "Phoenix" (1947), another film made to please American censors. This film is a sentimental romance, told in flashbacks, as many of Kinoshita's films are. Tanaka Kinuyo plays a war widow, who lives with her husband's family. Though she has not gotten over her husband's death, she is nevertheless a cheerful person, and a valued part of the harmonious community. In the flashbacks, the film recounts how she met and came to marry the man she did. They didn't have much time together, which ideally would make every scene feel very important, though most of it is very mundane.
This film is a bit preachy, and a tad too obvious. The film presents 1930's Japan as very Americanized. It's true that Japan did emulate the US before the war, but Kinoshita goes a little over the top, and there are possible anachronisms. It is difficult to imagine, how the prewar society of this depiction would have ever started the war in the first place. There were also times when the unashamed optimism of the film was too much, and felt sappy. Surely there were romances like this in every country during WWII, but Kinoshita skips most of the negative moments. In the end, we have a optimistic young couple, until all that is left is a beautiful memory and an optimistic widow.
Tanaka is good, as she always is, though the character is a bit too idealistic. Sada Keiji makes his screen debut here as the husband, and already in his first film the actor is pleasant and proper. There were several good scenes in the film, such as the pivotal moment between Tanaka and her father in law. Yet this "war kills love" narrative is a bit too heavy-handed for me. Of course all Japanese films were made under the same rules of censorship, but some were not quite so sunshiny and obvious in their progressive commentary. From 1947, I would recommend Ozu's "Record of a Tenement Gentleman" or Yoshimura Kozaburo's "The Ball at the Anjo House" over this one.