Kon Ichikawa was a versatile filmmaker who worked in a variety of genres, including drama, comedy, war films, and documentaries.

He was particularly known for his anti-war films, which explored the horrors of war and its effect on individuals and society.

One of his most famous anti-war films is The Burmese Harp (1956), which tells the story of a Japanese soldier who refuses to fight and instead becomes a Buddhist monk.

In addition to his anti-war films, Ichikawa was also known for his documentaries, particularly Tokyo Olympiad (1965), which is considered one of the greatest sports documentaries ever made.

The film captures the excitement and drama of the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, and was praised for its innovative use of slow motion and close-ups.

Ichikawa received numerous awards and honors throughout his career, including the Order of the Rising Sun, one of Japan’s highest honors, in 1998. He continued to make films until his death in 2008 at the age of 92.

Best Kon Ichikawa Films

Kon Ichikawa was a highly respected and influential filmmaker in Japan and around the world.

His films tackled important and challenging themes, and his innovative techniques and styles helped to push the boundaries of Japanese cinema.

1. The Burmese Harp (1956)

“The Burmese Harp” is a powerful anti-war film directed by Kon Ichikawa and released in 1956. The film is based on a novel by Michio Takeyama and tells the story of a group of Japanese soldiers stationed in Burma during World War II.

The main character, Private Mizushima, is a talented musician who plays the harp for his fellow soldiers to raise their spirits during the war.

After the war ends, Mizushima is tasked with convincing a group of Burmese soldiers to surrender to the British.

He becomes increasingly haunted by the atrocities of the war and the devastation it has caused, and begins to question the justifications for the conflict.

The film is a poignant and affecting examination of the futility of war and the impact it has on ordinary people. It is notable for its powerful cinematography and its moving portrayal of the soldiers and civilians caught up in the war.

“The Burmese Harp” was a critical and commercial success in Japan and helped to establish Ichikawa as a major filmmaker in the country. It is widely regarded as one of the greatest anti-war films ever made.

The Burmese Harp [DVD]
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)
  • 10/03/2023 (Publication Date) - Alliance Entertainment (Publisher)

2. An Actor’s Revenge (1963)

“An Actor’s Revenge” is a visually stunning film directed by Kon Ichikawa and released in 1963.

The film is a retelling of a classic Japanese play and tells the story of Yukinojo, an actor who seeks revenge against the three men who destroyed his family and his career.

Yukinojo is known for his cross-dressing performances, and he uses this talent to infiltrate the lives of his enemies and exact his revenge.


Along the way, he becomes involved with a wealthy merchant’s daughter and begins to question his own motivations and desires.

The film is notable for its intricate and stylized set pieces, which make use of vibrant colors and striking imagery.

It is also known for its complex themes, which explore the nature of revenge, love, and identity. The lead actor, Kazuo Hasegawa, gives a powerful performance as Yukinojo, and the film’s visual style and stunning cinematography have made it a classic of Japanese cinema.

“An Actor’s Revenge” is widely regarded as one of Kon Ichikawa’s masterpieces, and its influence can be seen in the work of many contemporary filmmakers.

The film’s themes of revenge, love, and the fluidity of identity continue to resonate with audiences today.

An Actor's Revenge (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]
  • Kazuo Hasegawa (Actor)
  • Kon Ichikawa (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Spanish (Publication Language)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

3. Fires on the Plain (1959)

“Fires on the Plain” is a 1959 war film directed by Kon Ichikawa. The movie is set during the final days of World War II in the Philippines, and it tells the story of Tamura, a Japanese soldier who has been diagnosed with tuberculosis and sent to a hospital on the island of Leyte.

When American forces begin to close in on the island, the hospital is destroyed, and Tamura is forced to flee into the jungle with little food or supplies.

As he journeys through the jungle, Tamura witnesses the horrific aftermath of the war and becomes increasingly isolated and desperate.

He struggles to maintain his sense of humanity in the face of overwhelming brutality and despair.

The film is known for its stark and unflinching portrayal of war, and for its exploration of themes such as the futility of violence and the resilience of the human spirit.

Ichikawa’s direction is marked by a stark and unsentimental style, which adds to the film’s sense of realism and immediacy.

“Fires on the Plain” was a critical success upon its release and has since become regarded as one of Kon Ichikawa’s greatest works.

It has been praised for its powerful performances, haunting cinematography, and its unflinching portrayal of the horrors of war.

Fires on the Plain - Criterion Collection
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Eiji Funakoshi, Mantar Ushio, Yoshihiro Hamaguchi (Actors)
  • Kon Ichikawa (Director) - Natto Wada (Writer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)

4. The Makioka Sisters (1983)

“The Makioka Sisters” is a 1983 drama film directed by Kon Ichikawa. Based on the novel of the same name by Junichiro Tanizaki, the movie tells the story of the Makioka family, a wealthy and aristocratic family living in Osaka in the years leading up to World War II.

The four Makioka sisters – Tsuruko, Sachiko, Yukiko, and Taeko – are at the center of the story, and their relationships and struggles form the heart of the film.

The movie is a beautifully rendered period piece that explores the changing values of Japan in the years leading up to the war.

The Makioka sisters represent a fading way of life, and their story is a reflection of the larger social and cultural changes that are taking place in Japan during this time.

Ichikawa’s direction is marked by a delicate and nuanced touch, which captures the beauty and complexity of the Makioka sisters’ world.

The film’s stunning cinematography and exquisite attention to detail have made it a classic of Japanese cinema.

“The Makioka Sisters” was a critical and commercial success upon its release, and it has since become regarded as one of Kon Ichikawa’s most accomplished works.

The film’s exploration of family, tradition, and cultural change continues to resonate with audiences today, and it remains a powerful and affecting examination of a pivotal moment in Japanese history.

The Makioka Sisters (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Keiko Kishi, Yoshiko Sakuma, Sayuri Yoshinaga (Actors)
  • Kon Ichikawa (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)

5. Tokyo Olympiad (1965)

“Tokyo Olympiad” is a 1965 documentary film directed by Kon Ichikawa, which documents the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

The film is widely regarded as one of the greatest sports documentaries of all time and is notable for its innovative style and striking visuals.

The film’s main focus is on the athletes themselves, and Ichikawa uses slow-motion and extreme close-up shots to capture the grace and beauty of their movements.

The film also captures the drama and tension of the events, and the pressure that the athletes were under to perform.

The film is also notable for its use of sound, which captures the ambient noise of the events and the reactions of the crowds.

The film’s score, composed by Toshiro Mayuzumi, is also considered to be a masterpiece, and it captures the drama and emotion of the events.

“Tokyo Olympiad” was a critical and commercial success upon its release, and it won numerous awards at international film festivals.

The film is considered to be a landmark in sports documentary filmmaking and has influenced countless filmmakers since its release. Its innovative style and striking visuals continue to captivate audiences today, making it a timeless classic of Japanese cinema.

Tokyo Olympiad (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]
  • Abebe Bikila, Jack Douglas, Hirohito (Actors)
  • Kon Ichikawa (Director) - Kon Ichikawa (Writer)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: Unrated (Not Rated)

3 Characteristics of Kon Ichikawa Films

Here are three characteristics of Kon Ichikawa’s films:

  1. Humanistic approach: Kon Ichikawa’s films are known for their humanistic approach to storytelling, focusing on the struggles and experiences of ordinary people. His films often explore the complexities of human relationships and the emotional bonds that connect people.
  2. Visual style: Ichikawa’s films are marked by a highly visual and often poetic style. He is known for his use of innovative camera techniques, such as extreme close-ups and slow-motion shots, and for his attention to detail in costume and set design.
  3. Historical and social context: Many of Ichikawa’s films are set against a historical or social backdrop, and explore themes related to the changing values and norms of Japanese society. His films often explore the tension between tradition and modernity, and the impact of historical events on individuals and communities.

3 Reasons Why You Should Watch Kon Ichikawa Films

Here are three reasons why you should watch Kon Ichikawa’s films:

  1. Unique visual style: Ichikawa’s films are known for their unique visual style, which combines innovative camera techniques, striking visuals, and attention to detail in costume and set design. Watching his films can be a visually stunning experience that is both captivating and thought-provoking.
  2. Exploration of human relationships: Ichikawa’s films often explore the complexities of human relationships, from romantic love to familial bonds and friendships. His films are known for their humanistic approach, and they offer a window into the emotional lives of ordinary people.
  3. Historical and social context: Many of Ichikawa’s films are set against a historical or social backdrop, providing insights into the cultural, social, and political changes in Japan during the 20th century. Watching his films can deepen your understanding of Japanese history and society, and offer a glimpse into the lives of ordinary people during important periods in Japanese history.

Best Kon Ichikawa Films – Wrapping Up

Kon Ichikawa was a prominent Japanese film director who created a diverse range of films spanning from the 1940s to the 2000s. Here are some of his best works:

Tokyo Olympiad (1965): A documentary film about the 1964 Summer Olympics held in Tokyo. The film is renowned for its unique visual style and innovative use of slow-motion and close-ups.

The Burmese Harp (1956): A powerful anti-war film about a soldier in World War II who becomes a Buddhist monk and tries to bring peace to his fellow soldiers. The film won the Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Fires on the Plain (1959): Another anti-war film, this one set in the Philippines during World War II. The film tells the story of a Japanese soldier struggling to survive in the jungle after his unit has been defeated.

An Actor’s Revenge (1963): A visually stunning film about an actor seeking revenge on those who wronged his parents. The film features vibrant colors and stylized sets.

Conflagration (1958): A slow-burning drama about a young priest who discovers a hidden mural in his temple and becomes obsessed with restoring it. The film is a meditation on art, beauty, and the dangers of obsession.

The Makioka Sisters (1983): A family drama based on the novel by Junichiro Tanizaki. The film follows four sisters in pre-World War II Japan as they navigate family obligations, social pressures, and the changing political landscape.

The Inugami Family (1976): A suspenseful mystery film about a wealthy family with a dark past. The film features an intricate plot, memorable characters, and unexpected twists.

These are just a few of Kon Ichikawa’s best films. His body of work is vast and diverse, and his films explore a wide range of themes and genres.