Kon Ichikawa was considered one of the masters of the immediate postwar generation of Japanese filmmakers -- a generation often overshadowed by the titanic presence of Akira Kurosawa. Like Kurosawa, Ichikawa frequently took secondary sources and made them his own. Also like Kurosawa, he was an exacting perfectionist and master of the widescreen format. Yet unlike Kurosawa, Ichikawa imbued his films with a sense of irony that swings from the sardonic to the compassionate.
Born in 1915 in southern Mie Prefecture, Ichikawa grew up a sickly child and spent much of his childhood drawing. Like Kurosawa, he aspired to be a painter. He also grew to be an enthusiastic movie fan, seeing most of the early samurai epics by Daisuke Ito and Masahiro Makino while marveling at Charles Chaplin films. Yet it was Walt Disney's Silly Symphonies series that proved to be a revelation for Ichikawa, as he realized that animation could combine his passions for art and for movies. After finishing technical school in Osaka in the 1930s, he got a job at the animation department of J.O. studios just as it was expanding from a rental film house to a full-fledged production company. As the Pacific War began, J.O merged with rival P.C.L to become studio giant Toho; Ichikawa was shifted from the dissolved animation department to become an assistant director. Ichikawa's first feature-length film was Musume Dojoji (1946), a ghost story told through puppetry. Unfortunately, the U.S. occupation forces confiscated and subsequently lost the film, not because of its content but because Ichikawa failed to submit the script to censors before its release. Even after he reached the ranks of international renown, Ichikawa still considered this film his masterpiece.