Kon Ichikawa (市川 崑, Ichikawa Kon, 20 November 1915 – 13 February 2008) was a Japanese film director and screenwriter. His work displays a vast range in genre and style, from the anti-war films The Burmese Harp (1956) and Fires on the Plain (1959), to the documentary Tokyo Olympiad (1965), which won two BAFTA Film Awards,[1] and the 19th-century revenge drama An Actor's Revenge (1963). His film Odd Obsession (1959) won the Jury Prize at the 1960 Cannes Film Festival.[2]

Kon Ichikawa
Ichikawa in the 1950s
Giichi Ichikawa

20 November 1915
Died13 February 2008(2008-02-13) (aged 92)
Occupation(s)Film director, screenwriter
Years active1936–2008

At his death in 2008, The New York Times recalled that "The Globe and Mail, the Canadian newspaper, called him in 2001 “the last living link between the golden age of Japanese cinema, the spunky New Wave that followed and contemporary Japanese film.”"[3]

Early life and career edit

Ichikawa was born in Ise, Mie Prefecture as Giichi Ichikawa (市川儀一).[4] His father died when he was four years old, and the family kimono shop went bankrupt, so he went to live with his sister.[4] He was given the name "Kon" by an uncle who thought the characters in the kanji 崑 signified good luck, because the two halves of the Chinese character look the same when it is split in half vertically.[4] As a child he loved drawing and his ambition was to become an artist.[4] He also loved films and was a fan of "chambara" or samurai films.[4] In his teens he was fascinated by Walt Disney's "Silly Symphonies" and decided to become an animator.[4] He attended a technical school in Osaka. Upon graduation, in 1933, he found a job with a local rental film studio, J.O Studio, in their animation department. Decades later, he told the American writer on Japanese film Donald Richie, "I'm still a cartoonist and I think that the greatest influence on my films (besides Chaplin, particularly The Gold Rush) is probably Disney."[5]

He moved to the feature film department as an assistant director when the company closed its animation department,[4] working under directors including Yutaka Abe and Nobuo Aoyagi.

In the early 1940s J.O Studio merged with P.C.L. and Toho Film Distribution to form the Toho Film Company. Ichikawa moved to Tokyo. His first film was a puppet play short, A Girl at Dojo Temple (Musume Dojoji 1946),[6] which was confiscated by the interim U.S. Occupation authorities under the pretext that it was too "feudal", though some sources suggest the script had not been approved by the occupying authorities. Thought lost for many years, it is now archived at the Cinémathèque Française.

It was at Toho that he met Natto Wada. Wada was a translator for Toho. They agreed to marry sometime after Ichikawa completed his first film as director. Natto Wada's original name was Yumiko Mogi (born 13 September 1920 in Himeji, Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan); the couple both had failed marriages behind them. She graduated with a degree in English literature from Tokyo Woman's Christian University. She married Kon Ichikawa on 10 April 1948, and died on 18 February 1983 of breast cancer.[7]

Ichikawa was among the first group of Toho staff that broke from the labor union during the Toho strikes, which went on to become part of Shintoho. Due to a shortage of directorial talent at the new company, he made his debut as director with A Thousand and One Nights with Toho.[8]

1950–1965 edit

It was after Ichikawa's marriage to Wada that the two began collaborating, first on Design of a Human Being (Ningen moyo) and Endless Passion (Hateshinaki jonetsu) in 1949. The period 1950–1965 is often referred to as Ichikawa's Natto Wada period. It's the period that contains the majority of Ichikawa's most highly respected works, such as Tokyo Olympiad (Tōkyō Orinpikku), for which he was awarded the Olympic Diploma of Merit,[9] as well as the BAFTA United Nations Award and the Robert Flaherty Award (now known as the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary).[1] It is also during this period that Wada wrote 34 screenplays, most of which were adaptations.

He gained Western recognition during the 1950s and 1960s with two anti-war films, The Burmese Harp and Fires on the Plain, and the technically formidable period-piece An Actor's Revenge (Yukinojo henge) about a kabuki actor.

Among his many literary adaptations were Jun'ichirō Tanizaki's The Key (Kagi), Natsume Sōseki's The Heart (Kokoro) and I Am a Cat (Wagahai wa neko de aru), in which a teacher's cat critiques the foibles of the humans surrounding him, and Yukio Mishima's Conflagration (Enjo), in which a priest burns down his temple to save it from spiritual pollution. The Key, released in the United States as Odd Obsession, was entered in the 1960 Cannes Film Festival, and won the Jury Prize with Antonioni's L'Avventura.[2]

After 1965 edit

After Tokyo Olympiad Wada retired from screenwriting, and it marked a significant change in Ichikawa's films from that point onward. Concerning her retirement, he said "She doesn't like the new film grammar, the method of presentation of the material; she says there's no heart in it anymore, that people no longer take human love seriously."[10]

His final film, 2006's Inugamis, a remake of Ichikawa's own 1976 film The Inugami Family, was entered into the 29th Moscow International Film Festival.[11]

Also in 2006, Ichikawa was the subject of a feature-length documentary, The Kon Ichikawa Story, directed by Shunji Iwai.

Ichikawa died of pneumonia on 13 February 2008 in a Tokyo hospital. He was 92 years old.[12]

The Magic Hour marked Ichikawa's last appearance and was dedicated to his memory. (This message can be seen in the end of this film.) In this film, a movie director played by Ichikawa is shooting Kuroi Hyaku-ichi-nin no Onna (a hundred and one dark women), a parody of Ten Dark Women.

Legacy edit

Ichikawa's films are marked with a certain darkness and bleakness, punctuated with sparks of humanity.

It can be said that his main trait is technical expertise, irony, detachment and a drive for realism married with a complete spectrum of genres. Some critics class him with Akira Kurosawa, Kenji Mizoguchi and Yasujirō Ozu as one of the masters of Japanese cinema.[13]

The Kon Ichikawa Memorial Room, a small museum dedicated to him and his wife Natto Wada displaying materials from his personal collection, was opened in Shibuya in 2015, on the site of his former home.[14][15]

Filmography edit

References edit

  1. ^ a b "Film in 1966 | BAFTA Awards". awards.bafta.org. Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  2. ^ a b "KAGI". Festival de Cannes. Retrieved 24 March 2020.
  3. ^ "Kon Ichikawa, Japanese Film Director, Dies at 92 (Published 2008)". 14 February 2008. Retrieved 2 August 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Ichikawa Kon Film Book (in Japanese). Nihon Eiga Senmon Channeru. March 2012.
  5. ^ Richie, Donald. "The Several Sides of Kon Ichikawa". in Quandt (2001), p. 53.
  6. ^ "Musume Dôjôji". IMDb.
  7. ^ Quandt, James, ed. (2001), Kon Ichikawa, Toronto: Cinematheque Ontario, p. 35, ISBN 0-9682969-3-9
  8. ^ Anderson, Joseph L.; Richie, Donald (1960). The Japanese Film: Art and Industry. New York: Grove Press. pp. 168, 183.
  9. ^ Findling, John E.; Pelle, Kimberly D. (2004). Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement. Westport: Greenwood Press. p. 172.
  10. ^ Quandt (2001), p. 40.
  11. ^ "29th Moscow International Film Festival (2007)". MIFF. Archived from the original on 21 April 2013. Retrieved 31 May 2013.
  12. ^ Compiled from Kyodo Associated Press (February 2008). "Director Ichikawa, 92, dies". The Japan Times. Retrieved 9 July 2008.
  13. ^ Phillips, Alastair and Julian Stringer (2007). Japanese Cinema: Texts and Contexts. London: Taylor & Francis. p. 1. ISBN 9781134334223. Retrieved 27 November 2020.
  14. ^ "大監督による代表的7作品の貴重な資料を展示「市川崑記念室」". ZAKZAK (in Japanese). Retrieved 27 July 2019.
  15. ^ Gerow, Aaron. "Ichikawa Kon Memorial Room". Tangemania. Retrieved 27 July 2019.
  16. ^ Joseph L. Anderson and Donald Richie. The Japanese Film: Art and Industry. New York: Grove Press, 1960, 168.

External links edit