Kon Ichikawa Critical Essays

Introduction

Kon Ichikawa 1915–

Japanese director, screenwriter, and cartoonist.

Ichikawa is one of Japan's best-known filmmakers. His films are highly regarded because of their beautiful color and architecture. The characters in his films often exhibit some sort of abnormal behavior; leading some critics to label his works "bizarre comedies." However, Ichikawa is very serious about his filmmaking, and uses comedy primarily as a means of social satire.

Ichikawa was a cartoonist before he began making films, and his first film, A Girl at Dojo Temple (1946), reflects his early career. The film, a puppet version of a Kabuki play, was banned because its script had not been submitted to authorities for approval. Undaunted, Ichikawa continued to make films, including Pu-san (Mr. Poo), a satirical look at Japanese life, based on a popular cartoon character. In 1956, Ichikawa made The Burmese Harp, a war film which attracted international attention. Ichikawa's subsequent films have been fairly well received. Although Kagi (Odd Obsession) has been dismissed by some critics for its unrealistic plot and crude humor, and Nobi (Fires on the Plain) has been termed "physically repulsive" because of its scenes of violence and cannibalism, these films have found supporters who realize the importance of such unusual aspects to Ichikawa's themes.

Ichikawa's most important films are Alone on the Pacific, An Actor's Revenge, and Tokyo Olympiad. These films show man struggling not only with nature or with others, but with himself, in order to attain a goal. The importance of these films lies in the mixture of humor and pathos involved in the character's journey toward fulfillment of his personal goal. Just as important is Ichikawa's filmic technique. He records events as they happen, without editorializing or being subjective, and allows the struggle for victory to develop naturally into a significant climax. These films solidified Ichikawa's growing international reputation.

The wide range of subject matter in Ichikawa's films shows that he is as adept at handling "serious" topics as he is at satire. Ichikawa works with his wife, Natto Wada, on the scripts for most of his films, and he admits that her influence is the major reason that he has adapted many literary works for the screen. Ichikawa shows both the light and the dark sides of human nature, but viewers often find his films depressing. He admits that he would like to be more optimistic in his art, but he films what he sees: "I look around for some kind of humanism, but I never seem to find it."