Kon Ichikawa

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6.9 Pu-san (1953)
7.0 Burmese Harp (1956)
6.5 Enjo (1958)
6.8 Fires on the Plain (1959)
6.5 Kagi (1960)
6.0 Matatabi (1973)

Kon Ichikawa (Japan, 1915) si dedicò fin da piccolo al disegno; quando un rovescio finanziario lo costrinse a cercarsi un lavoro, si impiegò presso una casa cinematografica nel settore dei cartoni animati, allora (1937) pressochè inesistente. Organizzata la produzione, Ichikawa diresse Musume Dojoji/ The Girl at Dojo Temple (1945), a puppet version of a kabuki play. Hana Hiraku/ A Flower Blooms (1948) is instead a realistic drama.

Nel dopoguerra, data la scarsa fortuna del cinema d'animazione, passò al genere leggero della commedia satirica, per esempio con Ashi ni Sawatta Onna/ The Woman Who Touched the Legs (1952), a remake of Yutaka Abe's film (1926).

Con Pu-san/ Mr Pu (1953), adapted from a cartoon strip, Ichikawa conquistò il pubblico e la critica; è un capolavoro di tenue umorismo che ne fa il Frank Capra giapponese. l'autentica ispirazione del regista è però di segno diametralmente opposto e riesce ad emergere soltanto con l'ondata di film pacifisti degli anni Cinquanta che rievocavano gli orrori della guerra. I suoi film bellici si distinguono per l'afflato universale che esalta o condanna tutti gli uomini, unificati nei loro istinti primordiali dal cataclisma della guerra; interessato più all'uomo che all'azione, Ichikawa partecipa allo sconforto dei perdenti., figure negative che compiono o sono costretti a compiere una rinuncia.

Kokoro/ The Heart (1955) is an adaptation of Natsume Soseki's novel (1914).

Ichikawa turned to the fashionable topic of juvenile delinquents with Shokei no Heya/ Punishment Room (1956), adapted from Shintaro Ishihara's short story.

Biruma no Tategoto/ The Burmese Harp (1956), adapted by his wife Natto Wada from Michio Takeyama's novel, is another odyssey of a desperate soul through a devastated human landscape.

The Japanese are losing World War II and their situation in occupied Burma is becoming desperate. The only consolation of one of the units is a harp player, Mizushima. He plays for the pleasure of the soldiers and he also scouts for them, playing tunes that tell them if there is any danger ahead. One day they enter a Burmese village and they realize too late that it's a trap. They are surrounded by British troops. However, Mizushima intones a song on his harp and the British soldiers start singing it. The Japanese soldiers join in. That night they learn that the war has ended: Japan has surrendered and they are prisoners. They are treated well in the prison camp. Some Japanese soldiers refuse to surrender and Mizushima volunteers to mediate. The British commander gives him 30 minutes to convince the soldiers to surrender. The soldiers refuse to surrender and accuse Mizushima of being a traitor and a coward. Time's up and the British bomb the place killing everybody except Mizushima.
The action moves to a village where the Japanese are working to rebuild a bridge. They are desperate to find out what happened to their beloved Mizushima. One day they see a Buddhist monk who looks just like him but he does not reply to his name. An old lady tells them that Mizushima did not survive the slaughter. She also tells them that the Buddhist monk got a parrot from her husband, and the captain of the Japanese buys the brother of that parrot.
A flashback shows what happened after the bombing. Mizushima was saved by a Buddhist monk who cured him in a cave. Then he started wandering dressed in a white robe. Thinking him a Buddhist monk, the farmers and the fishermen gave him food. He was horrified to find unburied Japanese skeletons everywhere. One day he met a child playing the harp for the British and taught him how to play it better. He then met his old unit on the bridge (the scene before the flashback began) but he felt that he could not go back to them.
The flashback is over. The Japanese soldiers hear the child play the harp just like Mizushima used to play it. It's another sign that he might be alive. Mizushima is busy burying all the unburied corpses. Villagers help him. He finds a big ruby by the river, that he takes to be the spirit of the dead. The Japanese soldiers see him again during a Buddhist procession. The captain notices that the monk is carrying a white box. He later finds it and opens it: it contains just the ruby. The captain is convinced that the monk is Mizushima and tries to "resurrect" him by bringing a choir of both Japanese and British soldiers to sing one of his favorite tunes in front of a giant Buddha. Mizushima, who lives inside the Buddha, responds by intoning the tune on his harp, but then hides when the soldiers look for him.
Permission comes to repatriate the Japanese prisoners. They regret they are leaving without Mizushima. The captain has trained the parrot to deliver a message to Mizushima and entrusts the parrot to the old lady. It works: the Buddhist monk shows up. They are inside the fence of the prison camp, he is outside, a little distance from the fence. He is not moving and not talking. They start singing. He starts playing. Then he leaves, without a word.
The following day the old lady brings them two things: his parrot (he kept theirs and gave them his) and a letter. The captain refuses to read the letter: it won't make any difference. Only after they boarded the ship to Japan does the captain read the letter to his soldiers. In the letter he explains that he has a mission to complete: burying all the dead.
Un caporale si è conquistato la simpatia del suo reparto suonando l'arpa birmana. Un giorno non ritorna dalla sua missione e i compagni si disperano. Il caporale in effetti è sopravvissuto miracolosamente a un presidio che ha preferito farsi massacrare piuttosto che arrendersi. Dopo aver vagato per giorni in mezzo ai cadaveri, incontra un prete Buddista che lo cura e lo conforta. Traumatizzato dall'orrore della morte, decide di farsi bonzo e di dedicare la vita a seppellire i cadaveri dei soldati. Quando incontra gli ex-commilitoni che, prigionieri, stanno per ritornare in patria, non risponde al loro saluto, ma poi invia loro un pappagallo e una lettera ove spiega i motivi della sua conversione.

He disowned Okuman Choja/ A Billionaire (1954).

Nihonbashi (1956) is a remake of Kenji Mizoguchi's film (1929).

Man'in Densha/ The Crowded Streetcar (1957) is a bleak realistic drama about wasted youth.

Enjo/ Conflagration (1958) is an adaptation of Yukio Mishima's novel, Kinkaku-ji/ The Temple of the Golden Pavilion (1956).

Enjo mette in luce un'altra caratteristica dei film della maturità, l'erotismo perverso: l'allievo di un bonzo scopre che l'austero maestro si trastulla con una donna e vende i tesori del tempio; la rinuncia in questo caso consiste nella distruzione: dà fuoco a un padiglione e distrugge il tempio stesso.

Lo stile di Ichikawa si rapprende mano mano in un figurativismo pittorico molto suggestivo. Ma il gusto per il macabro e l'erotico unito a questa tendenza lo porta a scadere qualche volta nel sensazionalismo più gratuito.

The other anti-war classic, Nobi/ Fires on the Plain (1959), is an adaptation of Shohei Ooka's 1951 novel.
Il film riesce invece a miscelare tutto in un'atmosfera tesa e angosciosa: lo sterminio di massa e perfino il cannibalismo, la follia, la barbarie più turpe. L'Odissea di un soldato comune diventa un affresco della turpitudine della civilta` umana.

World War II has been all but lost by Japan. Nevertheless the Japanese keep fighting in the occupied territories. Tamura, who was dismissed prematurely by the hospital, is told by his commander to report back to the hospital; if not admitted, he is to commit suicide. The squadron doesn't have food, tools or weapons, and cannot afford to keep sick men. He walks alone and with no food through the forest until he finds the hospital. At the hospital, though, they don't want him because they only have two doctors and much more serious patients. From the hospital he can see that his squadron is being shelled by the enemy. As the bombs get closer, Tamura runs into the jungle again. He is missed narrowly and manages to survive. When he reaches his old camp, he only finds an expanse full of dead bodies. Some of them might still be alive but he does not want to help them. He starts walking towards a huge cross. He gets to a deserted village. Under the cross he finds the skeletons of Japanese soldiers who have been massacred in front of the church (presumably killed by the villagers). He sees two villagers enter a house and follows them. He kills the woman because she starts screaming. Then he would also kill the man but his gun fails. The man runs away. Tamura walks out of the village and throws away his useless gun. Then he meets three Japanese soldiers who are the only survivors of their unit and they take him with them. They see black stains in the fields: Tamura thinks they were left by smoke signals of the guerrilla groups, while the others think they were left by farmers burning their crops. Later they stumble into a unit that is withdrawing: most of the soldiers have no food and walk like zombies. An old acquaintance of Tamura, Yasuda, has a bad leg and cannot move. He has lots of tobacco and sends his younger friend Nagamatsu to trade it for food. Tamura's shoes are so bad that he decides to walk barefoot in the rain. In order to reach the Japanese positions, the retreating soldiers need to cross a road that is controlled by the enemy. It is the first time that Tamura actually sees the USA enemy: he has only seen their bombs and heard their guns. The Japanese soldiers try to cross the road at night but are spotted by enemy tanks that massacre them. Tamura is one of the few who survives. The following morning he sees the USA soldiers inspecting the dead bodies. One Japanese survivor tries to surrender but a female guerrilla who is with the USA troops kills him. Tamura gets the shoes of a dead soldier and starts walking again. He meets a soldiers who has gone mad: this soldier sits under a tree thinking that he is now a Buddha and offers his arm for Tamura to eat. Tamura is about to collapse. When he sees a hand that was blown away from a soldier's body, he almost eats it. Just then Nagamatsu shows up and rescues him. He and Yasuda, whose leg is getting worse, have been surviving on monkey meat. Tamura still has his grenade, that was given to him to commit suicide, but Yasuda steals it from him. Nagamatsu does not trust Yasuda and decides that it's better to kill him before he can kill them. The confrontation lasts three days. Nagamatsu gets so hungry that now he's planning to eat Yasuda when they manage to kill him. Finally Yasuda comes out and Nagamatsu shoots him dead. Yasuda doesn't waste a second: he pulls out his knife and starts eating the dead body. Tamura runs to get the gun and aims it at the cannibal. The cannibal tries to take the gun from him and Tamura shoots. Now Tamura just wants to surrender: he raises his arms and starts walking towards the smoke of another mysterious fire, still not knowing if it's farmers or guerrilla who light those fires in the prairie. A few shots kill him before he can reach the fires. Uno sbandato vaga in un'isola delle Filippine fra le cataste di morti e fra gli altri sbandati come lui in preda al delirio (è costretto a ucciderne uno che si è dato al cannibalismo); questi soldati sono ridotti dalla fame e dalla paura al rango di bestie; ma il piccolo soldato lotta strenuamente per conservare la propria dignità di uomo (soltanto per un attimo perde il controllo e uccide un'indigena inerme), mentre si dirige faticosamente verso i misteriosi fuochi della pianura. Ma quei fuochi dall'aspetto ospitale sono una trappola mortale.

Then came Bonchi (1960) and the period drama Ototo/ Her Brother (1960).

Anche il claustrofobico Kagi/ The Key/ Odd Obsession (1960), sul versante erotico, riesce a contenere il compiacimento (e a sfoderare una magistrale tecnica cromatica); due vecchi e due giovani (padre, madre, figlia e genero) si autodistruggono sotto l'azione degli impulsi erotici, soprattutto quelli senili; un film di crudeltà psicologiche che affonda inesorabilmente nell'"enryo" borghese. Per alcuni anni questa diventa la direzione preferenziale del cinema "oscuro" di Ichikawa. La paranoia dell'olocausto è ridotta ai termini individuali, nella vita quotidiana di persone normali, che distruggono meticolosamente la propria esistenza.

Kuroi Junin no Onna/ Ten Dark Women (1961) is an innovative film noir, whereas Hakai/ The Outcast (1962) is a tedious melodrama. Watashi wa Nisai/ I am Two/ Being Two Isn't Easy (1962) is a realist drama narrated by a two-year-old child.

Then came Taiheiyo Hitoribotchi/ Alone on the Pacific (1963) and Yukinojo no Henge/ An Actor's Revenge (1963), a loose and complex remake of Teinosuke Kinugasa's serial of 1937.

Nel 1964, licenziato dalla sua casa, si dedica a doucmentari su commessa, fra i quali spicca il colossale Tokyo Orimpikku (1965), della durata di settanta ore; in questo caso il soggetto ben si prestava agli ideali umanitari, universali e di dignità, propugnati dal regista.

He returned to animation with Topo Jijo no Botan Senso/ Topo Gigio and the Missile War (1967), based on the Italian cartoon.

Pur relegato fra i documentaristi, l'eclettico Ichikawa è riuscito a dirigere ancora un film a soggetto nel 1973, il gangster movie Matatabi/ The Wanderers (1973) storia tragicomica delle avventure di un gruppo di ladruncoli, il cui codice d'onore impone loro di proteggere chi li ospita, giuramento che si ritorce sanguinosamente contro di loro.

Inugami-ke no Ichizoku/ The Inugami Family (1976) is a complex thriller. Ichikawa also adapted Tanizaki's masterpiece Sasameyuki/ The Makioka Sisters (1983). He remade his own The Burmese Harp (1985). Tenkawa Densetsu Satsujin Jiken/ The Noh Mask Murders (1991) was a thriller. Eiga Joyu/ Actress (1987) is a biopic of a famous actress, Kinuyo Tanaka. He finally filmed Dora-Heita (1999), a 30-year-old script co-written with Akira Kurosawa, Masaki Kobayaski and Keisuke Kinoshita. His last animated movie was Shinsengumi (2000). His last film, released in 2006 when he was 91 years old, was a remake of his own Inugami-ke no Ichizoku/ The Inugami Family.

Ichikawa died in 2008.

Attraverso le diverse stagioni della sua carriera di regista (l'animazione, la commedia, il film di guerra, l'erotismo, il documentario), Ichikawa si è segnalato come uno dei primi registi internazionali del Giappone, deciso assertore di un cinema che parli a tutti i popoli del mondo e non soltanto al suo.

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