Some terrible news has just come in, but according to news reports from Japan, the director Toshiharu Ikeda has been found dead, believed to have committed suicide by drowning. The main source I have for this at present can be found in Japanese here and here.
29/1/2011: This is an addenda to the original post. I originally had the date of Ikeda’s death down as 25 January 2011. More likely it was 25 December 2010 (Christmas day!), as his body was discovered in the sea near the town of Daio, near Mie Prefecture, at around 9.35am on the morning of 26 December but was not identified until 25 January.
Ikeda is known in the the West for Japan’s first splatter movie Evil Dead Trap (1988), a well-made but ultimately derivative film written by his regular collaborator from the 1980s, Takashi Ishii, and heavily influenced by Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead and the works of Cronenburg and Argento. His other major claim to fame is breaching Japan’s notorious no-pubic rule, with the country’s first full frontal in a mainstream film, with Naomi Kawashima bearing all in his 1997 adaptation of Junichiro Tanizaki’s novel The Key, according to Thomas Weisser in his Japanese Cinema Encyclopedia: The Sex Films (not entirely true, as I detail in Behind the Pink Curtain).
Ikeda began his career at Nikkatsu, making Roman Porno films such as Sukeban Mafia: Lynching (1980), One Summer’s Experience: Blue Coral Reef (1981) and Angel Guts: Red Porno (1981). The latter, the fourth film in the Angel Guts series based on the adult manga series by Takashi Ishii, was his last for the studio, and he left to go freelance, with his next film, Mermaid Legend (1984) a co-production between the Director’s Company and Art Theatre Guild – incidentally, a number of Japanese authorities have described this as his best, although I personally have never seen it. His output over the next decade or so following Evil Dead Trap was fairly negligible, however, mainly work in the field of erotic and action V-Cinema. His final work that I was aware of, The Man Behind the Scissors, played at the 2004 Tokyo International Film Festival, marking a return to 35 feature film-making. I covered it for Midnight Eye back then, and remember quite liking it until it started losing momentum and falling apart towards the end, as I wrote at the time. I’m actually amazed to discover, just looking for some more info on what subsequently happened to this film, but it was actually released by Media Blasters on DVD back in 2005, complete with with a quote from me on the cover. I’ve also just discovered another film of his, Shadow of the Wraith from 2005, was released in the UK too.
I was fortunate enough to meet Ikeda when I interviewed him for the Arts Magic release of Angel Guts: Red Porno, with Jason Gray filming and Sharon Hayashi interpreting, and found him to be one of the warmest and funniest interviewees I’ve ever met. At the time he was putting the finishing touches to The Man Behind the Scissors in the editing room and was clearly very excited about the forthcoming release of his first proper feature in years. I remember him drinking like a fish throughout the interview – we had to pop down to nearest Family Mart and stock up on beer and fags before we could begin, and I’m pretty sure he devoured his way through 6 cans and a full packet of Lucky Strike before the interview was over – to be frank, I thought he looked like he only had a couple of years left in him anyway if he carried on at that rate. You can see the full interview on the DVD of course.
What I remember most about it was his experiences as an assistant director at Nikkatsu, apparently the result of some barroom braggadocio – he never even want to be a filmmaker, but found himself drinking in a bar near Nikkatsu studios and got into an argument about how easy it was to be a director, and someone from the company said “Ok then, do it!”, and he found himself employed the following day. I also remember his anecdote in Thomas Weisser’s book about his duties as an assistant director including having to shave away the actresses’ stray tufts poking out of the maebari designed prevent their modesty from reaching the screen. With regards to the influences in Evil Dead Trap, he claimed never to have seen any of the films of Raimi or Argento, and that he hated horror so much, he’d never even watched his own film after making it.
The most memorable part of my brief acquaintance with Ikeda was heading out for a few more drinks at a nearby izakaya in Ikebukuro when a couple of middle-aged women started calling out to him from another table – all former Roman Porno starlets from his time at Nikkatsu! Amusingly, one of them kept calling him jo-kantoku (assistant director), resulting in him spelling out that he’d actually been a director for over 20 years – in return, he kept turning to me and saying, “Eee, bijin datta!” (“Wow, she used to be such a beauty!”), leading her to protest loudly at his choice of the word “datta” – I don’t recall who the actual actress was – she was never one of the company’s top-billed starlets though – but they’d worked together on several of Tatsumi Kumashiro’s films. Oh yes, and she seemed amazed that Red Porno was getting a North American DVD release!
Anyway, even if he wasn’t Japan’s greatest director, Ikeda was a very funny man, and the world is by far the poorer for his absence.