Helmer Jun Ichikawa, 59, died after collapsing at a meal around midnight Friday. He was rushed to a nearby Tokyo hospital but passed away in the early hours of Friday morning. The cause of death has not yet been announced.
On the evening of his death, Ichikawa was editing his last pic, “buy a suit,” which is skedded to preem on Oct. 18 in the Japanese Eyes section of the upcoming Tokyo Film Festival.
Born in Tokyo in 1948, Ichikawa joined a company producing TV commercials in 1975 and established himself as a leader in the field for his award-winning, sales-boosting ads.
In 1987 he released his first theatrical pic, “Bu su,” a teen drama starring Yasuko Tomita. In the 1990s he helmed a series of low-key but sharply perceptive and beautifully shot dramas that were compared to the work of Yasujiro Ozu, an Ichikawa favorite. He also expressed admiration for the work of his countrymen Takeshi Kitano and Shinji Somai, as well as Francois Truffaut, Eric Rohmer, Ken Loach and Mike Leigh.
In 1991 his teen drama “Tsugumi” won him the director prize at the Mainichi Film Awards, a major domestic awards competish. He won again in 1994 with “Dying at a Hospital,” a drama about terminal cancer patients.
His 1995 Ozu homage “Tokyo Kyodai” (Tokyo Siblings) screened in the Panorama section of the Berlin fest, where it was awarded a special mention by the Fipresci jury. In 1997 “Tokyo Lullaby,” a middle-aged relationship drama, earned Ichikawa director honors at the Montreal World Film Festival.
His biggest prizewinner, however, was “Tony Takitani,” a 2004 drama based on a Haruki Murakami short story about an introverted illustrator (Issei Ogata) with a fashion-crazed wife (Rie Miyazawa) that won the special jury prize, youth jury prize and Fipresci prize at the Locarno fest, as well as many honors elsewhere, including a nom for best foreign film at the 2006 Independent Spirit Awards. It was also released in the U.S. by Strand Releasing and in 10 other countries and territories around the world in addition to Japan.
Ichikawa’s most recently released pic was the 2007 teen drama “How to Become Myself.”