Summary from yesasia – “It has been three years since pop auteur Iwai Shunji’s last film Hana and Alice, and his latest offering may seem a bit surprising. In a marked departure from his previous youth-centric works, his new film is a documentary about legendary director Ichikawa Kon, whom Iwai cites as one of his greatest influences. In a momentous career spanning over fifty years, 91-year-old Ichikawa Kon has long established himself as one of the great masters of Japanese cinema. A lifetime his junior, 44-year-old Iwai Shunji has, through acclaimed films like Swallowtail Butterfly and All About Lily Chou-Chou, emerged with a distinct voice and language of his own amongst the current generation of filmmakers.
This documentary, appropriately titled The Kon Ichikawa Story, marks the rare marriage of two of Japan’s most interesting and celebrated filmmakers in one feature film. In 2006 while Ichikawa was shooting Murder of the Inugami Clan, a remake of his epic classic The Inugami Family, Iwai was shooting The Kon Ichikawa Story. Simply speaking, the documentary tells the life story of the master director from birth to present, but this being an Iwai Shunji film, the presentation differs from a conventional documentary. Using text, photographs, clips, and interviews from the movie set, Iwai weaves a revealing and arresting profile of a man who has lived through a century of changes, and helped shape the face of modern Japanese cinema.”
By RUSSELL EDWARDS
Docu “Filmful Life” reps a sweetly considered, intimate and professional portrait of tireless nonagenarian Japanese helming vet Kon Ichikawa. Directed by Shunji Iwai (“All About Lily Chou-Chou”), this appraisal was conceived to celebrate Ichikawa’s 2006 remake of his own 1977 film “The Murder of the Inugami Clan”; slight partiality toward these two films from production outfit Kadokawa Herald is evident, but does not spoil overall effect. Docu will work best at fests screening Ichikawa’s latest effort, but would also charm as a stand-alone presentation. In ancillary, it would make a perfect bonus disc for an Ichikawa box set.
More slide show and hand-calligraphy essay than movie, docu relies heavily on intertitles and digitally manipulated photographs. This may test the patience of general auds, but those with a passion for Japanese cinema will appreciate the pic’s unhurried, meditative tone, which has the gentle ease of a storybook read by a wise parent to a curious child.
Pic chronicles in detail the helmer’s early life and distaff influences, both personal and professional. Luck, and possibly an incorrect medical diagnosis, kept him out of WWII, but nothing could keep him out of the film industry. Beginning as an animator, Ichikawa was inspired by Walt Disney and commented that once he saw “Fantasia” (1940), he knew it would be impossible for Japan to win the war.
With its emphasis on the personal, pic dwells on the romance between Ichikawa and Natto Wada, the astute Toho studio interpreter-cum-scriptwriter who became his collaborator and wife.
Possibly due to commercial constraints, docu gives short shrift to Western favorites like “The Burmese Harp” (1956) and “An Actor’s Revenge” (1963). Instead, internationally lesser-known pics — such as Ichikawa’s first color film “Bridge of Japan” (1956), “Conflagration” (1958), the wittily sinister “Ten Dark Women” (1961) and several other relative obscurities — are given prominence by a generous supply of clips.
Kadokawa coin and docu’s raison d’etre are most apparent in an extended consideration of both the original and remake of “The Murder of the Inugami Clan” in docu’s latter section. While this commercial spin may feel unbalanced to some cineastes, Iwai restores the gentle tone established at the outset, adding his personal reminisces and reflections about the prolific, still-active helmer in the final reels.
Clips (some obviously from trailers) are an education for both expert and novice. Digital manipulation of well-chosen personal photographs creates the illusion of movement and prevents the film, particular in its early section, from being too static.
Soundtrack, dominated by the clicking sound of film running through a projector’s sprockets, is accompanied by Iwai’s own music, which is as beguiling as the subject matter and smoothly underlines pic’s sublime style.
Original Japanese title simply means “Kon Ichikawa Story.”
Camera (color/B&W), Shinichi Tsunoda; music, Iwai. Reviewed on DVD, Sydney, May 31, 2007. (In Cannes Film Festival — market.) Running time: 83 MIN.
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