Although many of his movies are still unknown in the West, Kon Ichikawa is regarded as one of the greatest movie-makers on Earth. He has always managed both popular and critical success, thanks to his many adaptations of Japanese literary classics. First renowned as the introducer of sophisticated Western-style comedy to Japan cinema in the 1950s, he later tackled graver concerns such as war and modern man's identity.
Born in 1915 in Ise, Ichikawa graduates at the Ichioka Commercial School in Osaka. He works in the animation department of the JO studio in Kyoto, and joins the Toho Motion Picture Company as the result of the 1942 JO-Toho merger. In 1946, he releases his first motion picture, Musume Dojo-ji (“The Girl at Dojo Temple”), for the Shintoho Motion Picture Company. The film is eventually banned and destroyed by the US occupation forces. Three Hundred and Sixty-five Nights (1948) provides him his first commercial success.
In the 1950s, Ichikawa and his wife, Wada Natto, with whom he collaborated for many of his early films, develop the genre of the verbally witty comedy in such pictures as The Woman Who Touched the Legs (1953), a remake of an earlier silent comedy, and Mr. Pu (1953), which would locally often make him referred to as the Japanese Capra. Two of Ichikawa's later features, The Burmese Harp (1956; award winner of Venice’s mostra), and Fires on the Plain (1959), are strong pacifist statements which earn him an international recognition.
Among his other major works, The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (1958; a warning against industrial pollution), Odd Obsession (1959; about sexual obsession), Bonchi (1960), Ten Dark Women (1961), An Actor’s Revenge (1963; a beautiful kabuki-based epic remake of the Kinugasa classic), and The Wanderers (1973), are all celebrated for their delicate visual approach. Another popular achievement is the documentary Tokyo Olympiad (1965).
In the late 70s, Ichikawa releases a few thrillers: Inugami (1976), Devil’s Island (1977), and carries on at a good piece per year rate throughout the 80s, unhampered by the crisis then experienced by Japanese Cinema. Last living member of the “Committee of Four Knights”, which also consisted of Kurosawa, Kinoshita and Kobayashi, Ichikawa honors their memory by directing Doraheita in 1999, the movie they had worked on together. His last movie is Big Mama in 2001.
A great admirer of Walt Disney, and a former cartoonist, Ichikawa thoroughly composes each scene as a painting, and knows how to use humour in the most tragic situations.
sources: Florent, Encyclopedia Britannica
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