Jack Bean

Docu reps a sweetly considered, intimate and professional portrait of Kon Ichikawa.

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.”

Filmful Life

Japan

Production

A Rockwell Eyes, Kadokawa Herald Pictures, Oz presentation, in cooperation with Independent Film Fund, of an Ichikawa Kon Monogatari Film Partners production. (International sales: Intercontinental Film Distributors, Hong Kong.) Produced by Taka Ichise. Directed, written, edited by Shunji Iwai.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W), Shinichi Tsunoda; music, Iwai. Reviewed on DVD, Sydney, May 31, 2007. (In Cannes Film Festival -- market.) Running time: 83 MIN.

With

Kon Ichikawa, Natto Wada, Shunji Iwai.

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