Japanese film director and screenwriter. His international reputation rests on two powerful pacifist pictures, Biruma no tategoto/The Burmese Harp (1956) and Nobi/Fires on the Plain (1959). His work, encompassing about 70 films, is characterized by meticulous colour compositions and perceptive studies of social misfits.
One of his most successful films was Yukinojo henge/An Actor's Revenge (1963), a tongue-in-cheek period melodrama of a female impersonator from the Kabuki stage. A visually stunning film made in CinemaScope, it draws ironically on Japanese traditional art and stage conventions for its stylized frames.
Ichikawa was born in Ise on Honshu. He began his career as an animator at a studio in Kyoto in 1933. By the time he moved to Tokyo in 1940, he had already worked on several features as an assistant director. He made his directorial debut with Musume Dōjōji/A Girl at Dojo Temple (1946), a puppet version of a well-known kabuki play, which was confiscated by occupying US forces for being excessively traditional.
Work A series of wry satires, such as Pu-san/Mr Pu (1953) and Okuman chōja/A Billionaire (1954), earned him the epithet ‘the Japanese Frank Capra’, although he has often been accused of being pessimistic in his vision of Japanese society. He has also made numerous literary adaptations – for example Enjō/Conflagration (1958), based on Yukio Mishima's Temple of the Golden Pavilion, and Sasame yuki/The Makioka Sisters (1983), based on the novel by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki – as well as thrillers, including Inugami-ke no ichizoku/The Inugami Family (1976).
Among his other films are Taiheiyō hitoribotchi/Alone on the Pacific (1963), about a young man's trip from Osaka to San Francisco in a yacht, and Eiga joyū/Film Actress (1987), based on the life of Japanese actress Kinuyo Tanaka (1910–1977).