Kon Ichikawa's representations of the Second World War
Representations de la Seconde Guerre mondiale dans le cinema japonais (de Kon Ichikawa)
''If psychiatry had not existed, the movies would have had to invent it. And in a sense they did'', wrote Irving Schneider in the foreword to the excellent book by Krin and Glen Gabbard, Psychiatry and the Cinema. For this session of the Societe Medico-Psychologique focusing on Cinema and Psychiatry, opportunistically ''delocalized'' at the misfit theatre called Le Brady, we wanted to present two masterpieces of the Japanese director Kon Ichikawa. These two powerful war stories, The Burmese Harp and Fires on the Plain illustrate the fascinating dialogue between movies and psychiatry, specifically in this case around war trauma and its consequences. ''While Ozu depicted the consequences of war on contemporary 1950 Japan, Ichikawa remained stuck on the last weeks of agony of 1945... Ozu's films begin where those of Ichikawa end'', wrote Serge Kaganski in the Inrocks in 1994, when the Parisian public was able to discover Kon Ichikawa's movies. Of course, we could have chosen to rather ''psycho''-analyze Godzilla, this terrible monster awaken from his deep prehistoric sleep by the Bikini atomic explosions and appearing for the first time on Japanese screens in 1954 as a metaphor of the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and as a subtle criticism of the US presence in Japan, nine years after the end of the war. We should not forget that King Kong against Godzilla (1962) directed by Inoshiro Honda was part of the Brady unconventional program. Kon Ichikawa was discovered by the majority of the Occidental public in 1960, when he received in Cannes the Jury's Prize for his film Kagi (The strange obsession) together with Antonioni for L'Avventura while the Palme d'Or was awarded to Fellini for La Dolce Vita. Kon Ichikawa, Japanese filmmaker (1915-2008) began his career as a cartoonist. Considered as the tenant of a rather commercial school, Ichikawa directed numerous films, more than fifty, not all always well received by the critics. However, we concur with Max Tessier who in his book Images of the Japanese cinema, states ''to see several of his films, you realize that there is in some of his movies a true Ichikawa's 'eye', mix of black humor and cinematographic entomology'' (indeed Ichikawa depicts some of his main characters as helpless insects), and a very recognizable aesthetic, especially in his films in cinemascope. His first films were satirical comedies, scratching the moral conventions of the Japanese cinema. Then came more drama and deep movies, especially three masterpieces, two great war films, The Burmese Harp in 1956, Fires on the Plain in 1959 and Kagi (The strange obsession) presented and awarded at the Cannes festival in 1960. The characters painted by Ichikawa are not the typical ''heros'' but individuals lost in a quest of an absurd goal, often isolated, like the two soldiers of his two war films, The Burmese Harp and Fires on the Plain. In Les Carabiniers, Jean-Luc Godard reminds us the true nature of war: (in war...) ''there is no victory, there are only flags and men falling''. In these two war films, Ichikawa is far from lecturing us, and far from an alleged exaltation of the values of feudal Japan like what was reproached to his first film by the US censorship. Kon Ichikawa personal aesthetic develops on screen an almost clinical vision of the traumatic destinies of two Japanese soldiers, caught in chaos, lost in the middle a disorganized mass of soldiers. Interestingly, we would suggest to watch these two movies in a row, as they are at the same time so similar and so different, like a kind of construct in mirror, the second prolonging the first in a vertiginous horror. They are quite similar in the sense that they are both depicting the destiny of an anti-hero, a Japanese soldier defeated at the end of the Second World War. But they differ totally aesthetically, to the classical academic format of Buddhist meditation of The Burmese Harp, responds the crude cinemascope format of the Fires on the Plain, using ..
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