Born in 1931, Ichikawa had a somewhat turbulent youth, that drove him distant of his biological family. He was first adopted by a distant relative, and then by an aristocratic theater enthusiast, with connections that would help Ichikawa to launch his career, after he was already drove to theater acting. For this reason, his legal name changed several times during the course of his youth.
From a young age determined to become an actor, in late 1946, only fifteen years old, Raizō Ichikawa made his debut in kabuki theatre. Learning and perfecting his acting skills with easiness – despite his young age – he rapidly became a consecrated actor, recognized by the vividness, grace and intensity of his style, impressing everyone who went to see his performances. Thus, in the beginning of the fifties, he endured a successful transition to film, that would definitely establish his reputation across Japan as one of the most talented actors of his generation. In 1954, Ichikawa made his film debut.
Like everything in his life – especially related to his acting career – Ichikawa rapidly became an established icon in the Japanese motion picture industry, making one film after another. By the end of the decade, he was practically a national celebrity. He could do as much as fourteen movies in a single year, and in his brief life, participated in a total of 158 films. He remained working in a very constant and rigid schedule, until cancer would provoke his untimely demise, at the age of thirty-seven years old.
As his physical condition deteriorated, soon he wasn’t able to do films properly, and in the movies he was still cast, doubles had to be used for elaborate or more intricate scenes. In the beginning of 1969, after a second surgery, he was too weak and excessively debilitated to do anything. His health had practically vanished. After learning that a substitute actor was cast in a movie for a role he desperately wanted to portray, he became too disappointed, and apparently became apathetic towards work prospects. He died some months later. A promising and brilliant career – that was, indeed, very fruitful and prolific – was cut short at the dawn of its rise.
Nonetheless, Ichikawa managed to leave behind a wonderful legacy, that consolidated his reputation as one of the most formidable, versatile and significant actors of his generation. He made the skill of acting to appear spontaneous – somewhat easy to execute –, because it was natural for him, despite the fact that all of his characters were profound and intense.
On Young Boy Takechi, Ichikawa plays a young naval officer that abandons his position, to assume the leadership of a Yakuza ring after his father – the actual leader –, dies. On a lustful man, Ichikawa plays a very eccentric womanizer, that thinks that his “mission” in the world is to make women happy.
A splendid talent that was lost too soon, fortunately, the actor had enough time to consolidate and leave behind a consistent and robust legacy, that not only is filled with some marvelous movies, but also have his deeply graceful and vivacious interpretations of exceedingly peculiar and dense characters, that engraves in a very colorful scenario the poetic beauty of Japanese cinema.