Much less known than Kurosawa, he remains in the club (open) of recognized Japanese directors. Like many, he has worked on many genres: superhero series, thriller, science fiction, dramatic comedy, erotic comedy. These main themes talk about death or religion – it’s also found on some TV series like Ultraman.
Jissoji akyo was born in Tokyo in 1937 but grew up in Manchuria then occupied by Imperial Japan. He returned to the capital after the war to study at Waseda University. Jissoji thought of French literature and cinema, and wrote several articles about them.
After his studies, he left to work as director of several TV series at TBS, a Japanese channel. Thanks to his knowledge of French cinema, he will try to incorporate elements of the new wave. In 1965 he directed several episodes of Ultraman and Ultra-seven, under the production of Eji Tsuburaya’s company Godzilla. His Ultraman episodes remain his most famous projects in Europe and the United States.
In 1969 he produced his own short film. A closed-door meeting where a group of friends play with death and a gas leak. This short film is based on an unused screenplay by Nagisa Oshima. The latter then proposed to the production company ATG to finance Jissoji. ATG focuses on the importation of foreign film. But then, tries to develop art cinema by drastically limiting budgets. Movies are chosen for their artistic rather than commercial qualities.
The first film of this union is Muji. Throughout the film Masao, the son of an affluent family, increasingly abandons Buddhist morality for depravity, incest, and threesome relations with his master. He is confronted with his friend Ogino, a nihilist monk (a radical school of Buddhism). In the realisation effort we can note the use of intelligent travellings to surround the characters in the decor. Very contrasting colours and a soundtrack cut between baroque music and ritual bell.
The second film is Mandala. This time he gives himself the colour but, to tell a theme close to the first film.
Two young couples fall into a cult where sexual pleasure and working the land are at the centre. The protagonists are looking for a way out of modern Japan.
The last film of this trilogy, Uta returns to black and white. We follow the heirs of a large family who no longer want to perpetuate the family name. On the other hand, Jun, an illegitimate employee and son of the family, absolutely wants to have his father’s name preserved. It sacrifices the happiness that can be found and folds down to a life close to asceticism. His choice will lead to his death.
These films join La nouvelle vague japonaise which is formed in reaction to the heroic film of samurai, and Yakuza (Japanese mafia, descendants of samurai). And, tries to show social problems. His 3 films have in common to question the relationship between human freedom and laws made by men to control men. This challenge is then already present in texts by Greek and French philosophers, but the imagined response is different. The Japanese director will turn more towards religion, while the Europeans more towards the domination of the other. However, Jissoji later made a film about the vision of the Marquis du Sade, playing on his unreal side.
His last film for the production company is Asaki yumemishi, the life of a courtesan. More classical, it tells the life of a 13th century courtesan who tries to escape the appearance of the course.
Then he will return to television. In 1977 he released a lighter film Utamaro: yume no shiriseba, »if I had known it was a dream ». A detective movie involving murder and theft. He signed his last major film as a science fiction director in 1989. Tokyo, the last megapolis follows a group of shaman chasing a former demon who takes on the appearance of a military. The film is a co-production of Takashige Ichise, producer of the new wave of Japanese horror cinema (ring).
At the end of his career he continued in universes for children and adults. He will take part in the film Ranpo noir and ten dreams. Two supernatural adaptations of the literary field.
Jissoji Akio died of cancer in 2006 at the age of 69. He is thus a representative director of his century in Japan. Like many at that time, he tried to deal with the contradictions of Japanese society in the post-war period, when the economic recovery was strong. And like many, it remains unknown, even in Japan, despite the gold leopard prize of the Locarno festival for Muji.