Ichikawa Kon, maybe a great director; certainly a director of some great films

 

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Ichikawa Kon (1915-2008) made some great films in multiple genres, and many others I have not had a chance to see (even with Hulu). Inspired by early Disney movies, he started out in an animation unit. At Toho Studio he met Wada Natto, whom he married in 1948. She made major contributions to screenplays Ichikawa shot. Although she formally retired after the 1965 “Tokyo Olympiad,” I suspect she continued to provide some inputs. She also bore two children by him

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(Wada and Ichikawa)

Ichikawa was noticed outside Japan for two of the most searing WWII movies ever made, “The Burmese Harp” (his 30th feature film and the earliest one I have seen) and “Fires on the Plain,” both showing desperate Japanese troops cut off from supply lines at the end of the war and programmed never to surrender. Other great early Ichikawa films are also quite dark (An Actor’s Revenge, Conflagration) though one of masterpieces is the gentle comedy “Being Two Isn’t Easy.” He also made the greatest documentary in color of an Olympic game (the 1964 Tokyo one), Tokyo Olympiad.

In addition to Mishima (Enjo/Conflagration), Ichikawa directed adaptations by Natsume (I Am a Cat, Kokoro), Tanizaki (The Key, The Makioka Sisters), and the Japanese ur-novel, Tales of Genji.

There was a 2006 documentary directed by Iwai Shunji that I have not seen, and some bonus feature interviews on Criterion releases (some also streaming on Hulu) that I have seen.

This week, I am going to discuss some Ichikawa masterpieces. I am curious about others, especially Genji and the Natsume adaptations, but have never had a chance to see them. The 2000 “Dora-heita,” the screenplay of which he wrote with three other major Japanese directors of the humanist era‑Kinoshita, Kobayashi, and Kurosawa—is the most recent film directed by Ichikawa I’ve seen, and that was in a film festival; I don’t think it had a theatrical release in North America.

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