Kon Ichikawa Philip Strick

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Philip Strick

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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The reconstruction of a single-handed voyage from Osaka to San Francisco … seems an unlikely choice for anything but a formal doumentary film. As one might expect, however, Ichikawa's Alone on the Pacific … makes a far richer meal of it than this. In his hands, the inevitable flashbacks to the early difficulties undergone on land by the would-be voyager, Horie, become as vital to the film's theme as is the struggle with the sea itself. The impersonal resistance of the Pacific, in fact, is shown to be a relatively manageable challenge….

Ichikawa is concerned here, as usual, with the fine distinction between individualism and self-centredness. Without belittling his hero's achievement, he affectionately emphasises Horie's clumsy and boorish qualities…. (p. 145)

[Horie's] journey is across weaknesses and doubts—and at its close the voyager reclines exhausted in an upholstered armchair against a wall of blazing, clinical whiteness. Clear links, then, with for example Fires on the Plain and An Actor's Revenge, although neither the doomed, tottering soldier and his resistance to cannibalism, nor the sensitive Yuki and his tragic resignation to the need for murder, have the robust resilience of the introspective sailor who seems indestructible even when swamped by the fiercest of typhoons. Of all Ichikawa's self-questioning heroes, Horie always manages to look as if he'll produce the right answers somehow.

One need hardly mention that the film is, of course, beautifully made. What is particularly striking is the effortlessness of it all, the fluency with which Ichikawa describes each stage of the voyage. He films from all angles, including helicopter shots from above underwater shots from below, yet there is never a false note—not even in the cabin scenes which presumably were shot in a studio. For all the storm sequences, what is conveyed most strongly and typically by Yoshihiro Yamazaki's brilliant photography is a dream-like sense of peace, with the tiny boat coasting along in sunlight while its passenger fiddles with a kettle or hangs his washing out to dry. By comparison, the flashbacks have a visible gloom, filmed in the dark recesses of the father's factory of the claustrophobic shadows of the family home—although these are perhaps the scenes that Ichikawa handles best…. (pp. 145-46)

Ichikawa sets [his characters] out across his vast screen with unfaltering visual flair; in particular the scenes at the workshop, beginning with an oppressive overhead shot, show father and son drifting further and further apart until they are at opposite sides of the frame; while the arguments around the table at home are a lesson in what can be done with deep-focus staging. If Alone on the Pacific makes no claim to be Ichikawa's greatest film, it remains a delightful demonstration of the director's extraordinary versatility. (p. 146)

Philip Strick, "Film Reviews: 'Alone on the Pacific'," in Sight and Sound (copyright © 1967 by The British Film Institute), Vol. 36, No. 3, Summer, 1967, pp. 145-46.