Ichikawa Kon (市川崑)

Kon ICHIKAWA (his childhood name was Giichi ICHIKAWA, November 20, 1915 - February 13, 2008) was a Japanese film director. His works range from entertainment movies to avant-garde movies as well as Jidaigeki-TV drama (period drama), and he worked on making films on the front lines from the golden period of Japanese films in the Showa era to the early 21st century. His representative works included "Biruma no tategoto" (The Burmese Harp), "Ototo" (Brother) (1960), "Nobi" (novel), "Record of the Tokyo Olympics," "The Inugami family," "Sasameyuki," and so on.

Before the war

He was born in Ujiyamada City (now, Ise City), Mie Prefecture in 1915. His childhood name was Giichi ICHIKAWA and he changed his name to Kon ICHIKAWA after coming of age. Later, he talked about the reason for changing his name to Kon, a cartoonist because Ichikawa had been a fan of Kon SHIMIZU's.

Though he had a longing to be a painter, he gave up because it was difficult to become one because he didn't have enough money at that time. Longing for the animated films of Walt Disney he watched in his childhood, he entered the animation division of J.O. Studio (later, Toho Kyoto Film Studio) in Kyoto through a connection of his relatives, and worked as an animator.

In 1936, he published 6-minute short animation film, "The new theory of Mount Kachikachi" created all by himself including the script writing, drawing, filming and editing processes. Soon he became an assistant director of live-action films and studied under Mansaku ITAMI, Yutaka ABE and so on. He transferred to the Toho Tokyo Film Studio due to closure of the Kyoto Film Studio. This Toho Kinuta Film Studio was his home his whole life up to his 'farewell party' held after his death except the short period in the New Toho film studio and about 10 years in Nikkatsu and Daiei.

After the war

He made a puppet animation film "Musume Dojoji" (The maiden at Dojo Temple) in 1945. He had already become an assistant director when the war was over at the age of 29. After that, Ichikawa shifted his playing field to making live-action films. Ichikawa is one of the few filmmakers who succeeded in moving from animation films to live-action films.

He transferred from the Toho Tokyo Film Studio to the New Toho film studio amid Toho conflicts, and later returned to the Toho Tokyo Film Studio again. He made films such as "Three hundred sixty five nights" which was a blockbuster classic soap opera, while experimental works generated publicity in this period, including unique caricature comedies such as "Pu san," "Okuman choja" (Billionaire), "A wedding march" produced with the fast-talking style, and "Nusumareta Koi" (I Love You) with bold video processing.

In 1955, he transferred to Nikkatsu which had just restarted film making the previous year. "Biruma no tategoto" (The Burmese Harp) catapulted him into fame as a director, and he transferred to Diei. He established his position, publishing masterpieces centering on literary films almost every year, including "Kagi" (Odd Obsessions Key), "Nobi" (novel), "Enjo" (Flame of Torment Conflagration) (movie), "Hakai" (The Broken Commandment) (novel), "Kuroi juichinin no onna" (Eleven women in Black), "Nihonbashi," "Bonchi," "Watashi wa nisai" (I am two years old), and "Yukinojo henge." Especially, "Ototo" (Brother) in 1960, which was beautifully described as the affection between sister and brother in the Taisho era shot by Kazuo MIYAGAWA, was selected for the top ten of Kinema Junpo for the first time in his career.

It was this period that he had actively worked for making films such as "Taiheiyo hitoribocchi" (in 1962) starring Yujiro ISHIHARA.

Tokyo Olympic Controversy

He created the "Record of the Tokyo Olympics" as a general director in 1965 and it caused much sensation. Ichikawa believed that the Olympics were not less than the sprawling drama without a set program. He wrote a sophisticated script from the opening ceremony to the closing ceremony with Natto WADA, Shuntaro TANIKAWA and Yoshio SHIRASAKA, and completed filming this documentary movie based on it.

He completed an extremely artistic film totally different from the traditional 'record films' in various unique ways; putting the scene of Tokyo losing its old image due to construction of athletic facilities in the beginning of the film, shooting one scene from various angles with many cameras, capturing athletes' heartbeats and sweat on their foreheads with a 2000-millimeter telephoto lens like a telescope, describing not only athletes but also spectators, not only winners but also losers, not only joy but also despair and so on.

The criticism by Ichiro KONO, Minister of the Olympics saying 'It lacks in recording performance' caused big controversy 'whether "Tokyo Olympic" is a record film or an art.'

Challenge to TV pictures

Amid the transition of the film industry from heyday to falling period due to the start of TV broadcasting service, many people involved in films held hostility towards TV and looked down on it. In such circumstances, Ichikawa paid his attention to the potential for the television as a new media, and positively entered into this field from 1959. He played a leading role on TV history, making films from film-recording TV movies and commercial films to varieties of dramas such as live dramas, video recording dramas and dramas shot with high-definition cameras during the experimental period. The series of TV commercials for Suntory RED (whiskey) using Reiko OHARA had been aired for many years.

Nowadays, "Kon ICHIKAWA Theater, Monjiro KOGARASHI Series" (Fuji Television), a series of TV period drama directed and supervised in 1972 is a legendary work in view of its novel interpretation and vivid pictures, and is said to put a great influence on subsequent TV period dramas.

From the late Showa era to Heisei era

He formed 'Yonki no kai' (film directors) with four members consisting of Akira KUROSAWA, Keisuke KINOSHITA and Masaki KOBAYASHI in 1969 and wrote the script of "Doraheita" together. Initially, it was announced to filmed by four directors together, but canceled. In later years, he directed it after the other three directors died.

He directed 'Kosuke KINDAICHI Series' written by Seishi YOKOMIZO in the 1970s, and its story became a blockbuster with luxury and beauty in its pictures and its way of speaking with a cozy tempo. He succeeded in a variety of fields including big literary works such as "Sasameyuki," "Ohan," "Rokumeikan" (a play), "Kofuku" (Happiness) (the film in 1981) adapted from a foreign mystery, a period drama "Chushingura forty seven assassins," "Doraheita," and "Ka chan" (Mother).

In 2003, a special big program was set to screen 65 films including his early works at the Film Center of The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. With his works in his early to middle period onto DVD one after another around this time, his works in the first half of his life proceeded to be evaluated again.

He was the second oldest director following Kanehito SHINDO in view of actively working at his age of over 90, and had the greatest career in both the record of winning awards and the box office in the Japanese film industry. In 2006, however, he remade his own work "The Inugami family" (the film in 1976) directed 30 years ago, without slowing his spirit of challenge despite his age.

Because of pneumonia, he passed away in a hospital in Tokyo at 1:55 on February 13, 2008.

His last activity was his appearance (in the role of a film director shooting "A hundred and one women in black") in one scene of the film "The Magic Hour" (directed by Koki MITANI) released in June 2008.

Evaluating his achievement for contribution to the film industry for many years and for the development of Japanese culture, the Japanese government on March 11, 2008 decided to award him the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star as well as Shoshii (Senior Fourth Rank) retroactively to February 13, 2008 when he died.

It is surprising that he spent his 60-year director life without belonging to specific companies for the long term and also continued to shoot with little absence in the sagging Japanese film industry. However, he had no bond with Shochiku, only in the leading film companies in spite of his several transfers (he made one film in Toei while it was Toyoko Film Company). In the 1980's, Shochiku released a film called 'Yoseiden' written by Ryo HANMURA. Besides, he was proposed to direct the works written by Shotaro IKENAMI as well as Cinema Japanesque, but neither came true.

Category and interpretation

His works ranged over so many fields including 'literary work,' 'period drama,' 'animation,' 'documentary,' 'comedy,' 'soap opera,' 'mystery,' and so on, and were ambitious ones in every field.

He made a wide range of works in various styles, for example, working on the puppet play "Topo Gigio and the Missile War" after the epic "Tokyo Olympics" and making "Hi no Tori" (Phoenix) (comic), the fantasy fiction combining animation during the period between the eerie "Gokumon Island" written by Seishi YOKOMIZO and "Jouou bachi" (Seishi YOKOMIZO).

Late in life, "Shinsengumi" all shot with paper dolls of cartoons by Hiroshi KUROGANE stunned its fans. Besides, he used the same leading actor based on the same script in "The Inugami family" (the film in 2006) remade after 30 years. Though many scenes followed the original ones in the cut segmentation and composition, the last scene in which Kindaichi casually went to the train in the original film was changed to the one in which he bowed in front of the screen in the remake. Some people over-interpret that this scene implies the end of the series over the record long period and the goodbye from the director who felt this film could become his last work.


Though he often asked his colleague, Wada to make all his scripts, he participated in writing the scripts of most of his works after Wada retired because of his illness. His pseudonym, 'Kurisutei' (a parody of Agatha CHRISTIE) used for the scripts of mystery films was initially the joint name with Wada and later with Shinya HIDAKA. Ichikawa made so many serious literatures into movies that people made fun of him as 'the complete collection of Japanese literatures' (Mitsutoshi ISHIGAMI), and he was also very familiar with mystery as shown in this name. "The Inugami family" was a featured problem-solving drama without an occult touch from the initial writing of the script to contrast strongly with "Yatsuhaka-mura" (Eight Tomb Village) (the film in 1977) (in 1977, Syochiku, directed by Yoshitaro NOMURA) released around the same time. In other Kosuke KINDAICHI series, the intellectual game elements were outstanding, for example, the story that Kindaichi's friendship was reset with the police man played by Takeshi KATO showing the same character in the different name of the role every time, adding colorful splatter scenes.

He rarely wrote the scripts completely on his own.
Chiho KATSURA who wrote the script of "Jouou bachi" with ICHIKAWA was said by him that 'I would like to shoot the picture of a white horse running along the beach.'
She spoke highly of the episode that he replied to think yourself how it would relate with the story when she asked him. He was not good at explaining his own works theoretically in interviews, and once irritated an ex-commentator Francois TRUFFAUT when he came to Japan. Though he was supported by Natto WADA, Shuntaro TANIKAWA, Shinya HIDAKA, Keiji HASEBE, and others as his brains, he was extremely sensuous and the bane of commentators.

Casts and Staffs

Koji ISHIZAKA was used in important roles of many works after "The Inugami family." He had a friendly association with Ishizaka as a younger friend both in his personal and professional lives. He also had a strong bond with Keiko KISHI like a colleague with an outstanding connection in the period, the number of works, a variety of roles, and she was offered to stand in for Fujiko YAMAMOTO who could not appear in "Sasameyuki." As for a supporting role, Kyoko KISHIDA had been used for a long period since when he belonged to Daiei. He made use of Takeshi KATO and Ittoku KISHIBE as well. Isao BITO, Saburo ISHIKURA, and others discovered their potentials as wonderful supporting actors by Ichikawa.

Because he had been active for a long period, many people worked with him over two or three generations. Juzo ITAMI, the son of Mansaku ITAMI who was Ichikawa's master, became a regular actor in Ichikawa's works and debuted as a director that was greatly impressed by him. In addition, Mansaku IKEUCHI, the son of Juzo ITAMI appeared in the remake version of "The Inugami family." As for other examples of Ichikawa's staffs, there are the father and the son of Naozumi YAMAMOTO and Junnosuke YAMAMOTO who are both composers and Toshio YASUMI and Yoshio SHIRASAKA who are both playwrights, and Shuntaro TANIKAWA who is a poet and wrote many scripts and Kensaku TANIKAWA who is a jazz pianist serving as a musical director in almost all of Ichikawa's works in his late life.


Ichikawa's established unique picture expressions greatly influencing younger film directors.

Shunji IWAI, a film director who established the picture technique called 'Iwai aesthetics' refers to "The Inugami family" in 1976 as 'my textbook for making films.'
Iwai who admires Ichikawa produced "Ichikawa Kon monogatari" (A story of Kon ICHIKAWA) in 2006.

Juzo ITAMI clearly mentioned 'My master is Mr. Kon ICHIKAWA' in the press conference for the public presentation of "Ososhiki" (The Funeral). Since then, the complete scenarios were always delivered to Ichikawa.

Teruhiko KUZE mentioned 'It is enough to watch Ichikawa's works only for Japanese films. Everything for films as well as plays lies in "Ototo" (Brother).'

Beat Takeshi mentioned that he was greatly influenced by "Tokyo Olympics" directed by Ichikawa.

Many foreign directors including Francois TRUFFAUT admire Ichikawa.

Saul BASS mentioned that the title background of 'Grand Prix' was influenced by "Tokyo Olympics."

The film directors from the so-called 'Ichikawa-gumi' includes Kengo FURUSAWA, Koji HASHIMOTO, Masaaki TEZUKA in Toho, Toshio MASUDA, and Mio EZAKI in Nikkatsu and Yasuzo MASUMURA, Tokuzo TANAKA, and Kazuo IKEHIRO in Daiei.

"Hikari to uso shinjitsu to kage Ichikawa Kon kantoku sakuhin wo kataru" (Kawade shobo shinsha, Publishers, in 2001) written by Makoto WADA and Yuki MORI received tributes from Ichikawa fans in the various fields, including Shinya TSUKAMOTO, Hisashi INOUE, Yasuharu KONISHI, Osamu HASHIMOTO, Makoto SHINA, and Miyuki MIYABE.

Ichikawa is one of the few people who was polarized among commentators, while he, as a master in the Japanese film industry, had more hit films and popularity than others. Finally, he was not featured in the library 'Filmmakers in the world' issued by Kinema Junpo, in spite of so many awards received. In his early life, he was treated like an enemy from left-leaning commentators due to the trauma of Toho conflicts. In his late life, commentators felt embarrassed by Ichikawa's ever-lasting style which was incongruous for the master and by his willingness to work on TV and entertainment films. With some exceptions in 'Biruma no tategoto' (The Burmese Harp) and 'Kofuku' (Happiness) as well as satirical comedies in the 1950s, it is unconventional that he had few films featuring the social themes compared with other masters in this rank and period. There were many faithful supporters while there were people including Shigehiko HASUMI and Sadao YAMANE who would not acknowledge Ichikawa. One of these supporters, Hiromi URASAKI commented that 'Ichikawa was the "super" master who handled the various styles himself' in 'Kinema Junpo' after Ichikawa's death.

Personal Profile

He had a gentle nature. Many actors who were taught by Ichikawa recall that he did not raise his voice in directing. He rarely made political statements bluntly.

He was so fussy about food that the anecdote that 'He eats meat only' was circulated. According to the story of Koji ISHIZAKA who appeared in the TV program "Hello from Studio Park" aired on May 30, 2008, Ichikawa laughed and said 'It is not easy to change dietary habits at my age' when Ishizaka warned Ichikawa who was eating oily Gyudon (a bowl of rice topped with beef) every day.

He was famous for being an extremely heavy smoker. He smoked a hundred Cherry's (cigarette) every day, and was known for smoking by putting it them in his dentures. Putting a cigarette into his mouth was his trademark during shooting, of course and when he was interviewed as well.
When he appeared as a judge in "The NHK Kohaku Utagassen" (NHK Year-end Grand Song Festival) in 1994 in which he was selected for Bunkakorosha (Person of Cultural Merits), Ichikawa scratched his head, being advised from Ichiro FURUTACHI serving as the host 'Your understanding for non-smoking in this hall is appreciated.'

Ichikawa sometimes burned film when seeing them through the light because he smoked during editing.

He had stopped smoking for 5 or 6 years before his death due to advice from Sayuri YOSHINAGA in addition to starting to be careful of his health in his late life.

Natto WADA

His wife was Natto WADA, a playwright. They met in Toho Film Studios and got married in 1948. Wada was a partner of Ichikawa in his professional and private lives, writing almost all the scripts for Ichikawa's works through his life and supporting his life for nearly 40 years. Natto WADA was originally the pen name used for co-writing when they belonged to Toho Film Studios. This became her own pen name after he gave it to her, saying 'I am far behind my wife in the talent for writing scripts' in "Koibito" (The Lovers) in 1951.

[Original Japanese]