Kon Ichikawa - Director

Nationality: Japanese. Born: Uji Yamada in Ise, Mie Prefecture, 20 November 1915. Education: Ichioka Commercial School, Osaka. Family: Married scriptwriter Natto Wada, 1948. Career: Worked in animation dept. of J.O. Studios, Kyoto, from 1933; assistant director on feature-filmmaking staff, late 1930s; transferred to Tokyo when J.O. became part of Toho company, early 1940s; collaborated on scripts with wife, 1948–56; used pen name "Shitei Kuri" (after Japanese rendering of Agatha Christie), from 1957; writer and director for TV, 1958–66. Awards: San Giorgio Prize, Venice Festival, for Harp of Burma , 1956.

Films as Director:


Musume Dojoji ( A Girl at Dojo Temple ) (+ co-sc)


Toho senichi-ya ( 1001 Nights with Toho ) (responsible for some footage only)

Kon Ichikawa
Kon Ichikawa


Hana hiraku ( A Flower Blooms ); Sanbyaku rokujugo-ya ( 365 Nights )


Ningen moyo ( Human Patterns ; Design of a Human Being ); Hateshinaki jonetsu ( Passion without End ; The Endless Passion )


Ginza Sanshiro ( Sanshiro of Ginza ); Netsudeichi ( Heat and Mud ; The Hot Marshland ) (+ co-sc): Akatsuki no tsuiseki ( Pursuit at Dawn )


Ieraishan ( Nightshade Flower ) (+ co-sc): Koibito ( The Lover ) (+ co-sc); Mukokuseki-sha ( The Man without a Nationality ); Nusumareta koi ( Stolen Love ) (+ co-sc); Bungawan Solo ( River Solo Flows ) (+ co-sc); Kekkon koshinkyoku ( Wedding March ) (+ co-sc)


Rakkii-san ( Mr. Lucky ); Wakai hito ( Young People, Young Generation ) (+ co-sc); Ashi ni sawatta onna ( The Woman Who Touched Legs ) (+ co-sc); Ano te kono te ( This Way, That Way ) (+ co-sc)


Puu-san ( Mr. Pu ) (+ co-sc); Aoiro kakumei ( The Blue Revolution ); Seishun Zenigata Heiji ( The Youth of Heiji Zenigata ) (+ co-sc); Ai-jin ( The Lover )


Watashi no subete o ( All of Myself ) (+ co-sc); Okuman choja ( A Billionaire ) (+ co-sc); Josei ni kansuru juni-sho ( Twelve Chapters on Women )


Seishun kaidan ( Ghost Story of Youth ); Kokoro ( The Heart )


Biruma no tategoto ( The Burmese Harp ; Harp of Burma ); Shokei no heya ( Punishment Room ); Nihonbashi ( Bridge of Japan )


Manin densha ( The Crowded Streetcar ) (+ co-sc); Tohoku no zummu-tachi ( The Men of Tohoku ) (+ sc); Ana ( The Pit ; The Hole ) (+ sc)


Enjo ( Conflagration )


Sayonara, konnichiwa ( Goodbye, Hello ) (+ co-sc); Kagi ) ( The Key ; Odd Obsession (+ co-sc); Nobi ( Fires on the Plain ); Jokyo II: Mono o takaku uritsukeru onna ( A Woman's Testament, Part 2: Women Who Sell Things at High Prices )


Bonchi (+ co-sc); Ototo ( Her Brother )


Kuroijunin no onna ( Ten Dark Women )


Hakai ( The Outcast ; The Broken Commandment ); Watashi wa nisai ( I Am Two ; Being Two Isn't Easy )


Yukinojo henge ( An Actor's Revenge ; The Revenge of Yukinojo ); Taiheiyo hitoribotchi ( My Enemy, the Sea ; Alone on the Pacific )


Zeni no odori ( The Money Dance ; Money Talks ) (+ sc)


Tokyo Orimpikku ( Tokyo Olympiad ) (+ co-sc)


Toppo Jijo no botan senso ( Toppo Gigio and the Missile War ) (+ co-sc)


Kyoto (+ sc)


Nihon to Nihonjin ( Japan and the Japanese ) (+ sc)


Ai futatabi ( To Love Again )


Matatabi ( The Wanderers ) (+ pr, co-sc); "The Fastest" episode of Visions of Eight


Wagahai wa neko de aru ( I Am a Cat )


Tsuma to onna no aida ( Between Women and Wives ) (co-d); Inugami-ke no ichizoku ( The Inugami Family ) (+ co-sc)


Akuma no temari-uta ( A Rhyme of Vengeance ; The Devil's Bouncing Ball Song ) (+ sc); Gokumonto ( The Devil's Island ; Island of Horrors ) (+ co-sc)


Jo-bachi ( Queen Bee ) (+ co-sc)


Koto ( Ancient City ) (+ co-sc); Hi no tori ( The Phoenix ) (+ co-sc)


Kofuku ( Lonely Hearts, Happiness ) (+ co-sc)


Sasame Yuki ( The Makioka sisters ; Fine Snow )


Ohan ; Biruma no tategoto ( The Burmese Harp )


Eiga Joyu ( The Actress ); Taketori Monogatari ( Princess from the Moon )


Tenkawa Densetsu Satsujin Jiken


Fusa (+ sc)


47 Ronin


Yatsuhaka-mura ( The 8-Tomb Village ) (+ sc)



Other Film:


Dodes'ka-den (Kurosawa) (pr)


By ICHIKAWA: books—

Seijocho 271 Banchi , with Natto Wada, Tokyo, 1961.

Kon , with Shuntaro Tanikawa, Kyoto, 1999.

By ICHIKAWA: articles—

Article in Filmmakers on Filmmaking , edited by Harry M. Geduld, Bloomington, Indiana, 1967.

"Kon Ichikawa at the Olympic Games," an interview in American Cinematographer (Los Angeles), November 1972.

On ICHIKAWA: books—

Anderson, Joseph, and Donald Richie, The Japanese Film: Art and Industry , Rutland, Vermont, 1960; revised edition, Princeton, 1982.

Mellen, Joan, Voices from the Japanese Cinema , New York, 1975.

Soumi, Angelo, Kon Ichikawa , Florence, 1975.

Mellen, Joan, The Wave at Kenji's Door: Japan through Its Cinema , New York, 1976.

Bock, Audie, Japanese Film Directors , New York, 1978; revised edition, Tokyo, 1985.

Burch, Noël, To the Distant Observer: Form and Meaning in the Japanese Cinema , Berkeley, 1979.

Allyn, John, Kon Ichikawa: A Guide to References and Resources , Boston, 1985.

On ICHIKAWA: articles—

Richie, Donald, "The Several Sides of Kon Ichikawa," in Sight and Sound (London), Spring 1966.

Milne, Tom, "The Skull beneath the Skin," in Sight and Sound (London), Autumn 1966.

Tessier, Max, "Kon Ichikawa l'entomologiste," in Jeune Cinéma (Paris), March 1967.

Dewey, Langdon, "Kon Ichikawa," in International Film Guide 1970 , London, 1969.

"Ichikawa Issue" of Cinema (Los Angeles), no. 2, 1970.

Johnson, W., "Ichikawa and The Wanderers ," in Film Comment (New York), September/October 1975.

Gillett, John, "Kon Ichikawa," in Film Dope (London), January 1983.

Oliva, Ljubomír, in Film a Doba (Prague), December 1985.

Schidlow, Joshka, "Découvrir Kon Ichikawa," in Télérama (Paris), 3 August 1994.

Elley, Derek, " 47 Ronin ( Shijushichinin ni shikaku )," in Variety (New York), 26 September 1994.

Matteuzzi, F., "Fuochi nella pianura: Immagini del tempo," in Cineforum (Bergamo), June 1996.

* * *

Kon Ichikawa is noted for a wry humor that often resembles black comedy, for his grim psychological studies—often of misfits and outsiders—and for the visual beauty of his films. He is noted as one of Japan's foremost cinematic stylists, and has commented, "I began as a painter and I think like one."

His early films show a perverse sense of humor as they reveal human foibles and present an objective view of corruption. In Mr. Pu , a projector breaks down while showing scenes of an atomic explosion. In A Billionaire , a family dies from eating radioactive tuna, leaving only a lazy elder son and a sympathetic tax collector. In The Key , a group of rather selfish, despicable people are poisoned inadvertently by a senile old maid, who becomes the only survivor. The film is a study of an old man who becomes obsessed with sex to compensate for his fears of impotency. He becomes a voyeur, and through the manipulation of the camera, we come to share in this activity. Slowly, however, he emerges as being sympathetic while the other characters are revealed in their true light.

Throughout his career Ichikawa has proven himself a consistent critic of Japanese society, treating such themes as the rebirth of militarism ( Mr. Pu ), the harshness and inhumanity of military feudalism ( Fires on the Plain ), the abuse of the individual within the family ( Bonchi and Her Brother ), as well as familial claustrophobia and the tendency of repression to result in perversion and outbreaks of violence ( The Key ). His films usually refuse a happy ending, and Ichikawa has been frequently criticized for an unabashed pessimism, bordering on nihilism.

Two of his most important films, Harp of Burma and Fires on the Plain , deal with the tragedies of war. The former concerns a soldier who adopts Buddhist robes and dedicates himself to burying the countless Japanese dead on Burma; the latter is about a group of demoralized soldiers who turn to cannibalism. A third work, Tokyo Olympiad , provided a new approach to sports films, giving as much attention to human emotions and spectator reactions as to athletic feats. Ichikawa is a master of the wide screen and possesses a strong sense of composition, creating enormous depth with his use of diagonal and overhead shots. Often he utilizes black backgrounds to isolate images within the frame, or a form of theatrical lighting, or he blocks out portions of the screen to alter the format and ratio.

Ichikawa remains fascinated with experimental techniques. His excellent use of the freeze frame in Kagi reflects his case study approach to characterization. He has also done much in the way of color experimentation. Kagi is bathed in blues, which bleach skin tones to white, thus creating corpse-like subjects. Her Brother is so filtered that it resembles a black and white print with dull pinks and reds. On most of his films, Ichikawa has used cameramen Kazuo Miyagawa or Setsuo Kobayashi.

After Tokyo Olympiad Ichikawa encountered many studio difficulties. His projects since then include a twenty-six-part serialization of The Tale of Genji and The Wanderers , a parody of gangster films with a nod to Easy Rider , plus a dozen documentaries and fiction features, among which The Inugami Family , a suspense thriller, proved to be the biggest box office success in Japanese film history.

—Patricia Erens

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