Six months after his birth in Kyoto he became the adopted son of Ichikawa Kudanji III (三代目 市川 九團次 Sandaime Ichikawa Kudanji). He made his kabuki acting debut at the age of 15 under the name Ichikawa Enzō (市川延蔵 Ichikawa Enzō). In 1951 he was adopted by Ichikawa Jūkai III (三代目 市川 壽海 Sandaime Ichikawa Jūkai) and was renamed as Ichikawa Raizō VIII. In 1954 he began a career as a film actor. He received breakout acclaim for his performance in Enjō and received several awards for the performance including the Blue Ribbon Award and the Kinema Junpo Award, both for the category of Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. Among his fans he was referred to lovingly as "Rai-sama." In June 1968 he was diagnosed with and underwent surgery for rectal cancer, but it metastasized to his liver and he died the following year.
Ichikawa Raizō appeared mostly in period dramas (jidaigeki). He is best known for the Sleepy Eyes of Death (Nemuri Kyoshirō) series, Ninja (Shinobi no Mono) series and Nakano Spy School (Rikugun Nakano Gakkō) series (based on the Nakano School). Raizō worked many times with director Kenji Misumi. Their collaborations include The Sword (Ken) (from a book by Yukio Mishima) and Destiny's Son (Kill!).
Other great works include An Actor's Revenge (Yukinojo henge). He was so admired for his gracefulness that in his lifetime he was called "the genius who thinks with his body."
Ichikawa Raizō was born in the Nakagyō ward of Kyoto on August 29, 1931. At the time of his birth, he was named Akio Kamezaki. At six months of age he was adopted by Ichikawa Kudanji III, who renamed him Yoshio Takeuchi.
According to the film critic Rikiya Tayama, the details of his adoption are as follows: While Raizō's mother was pregnant, Raizō's father was transferred to Nara as an executive trainee (幹部候補生 Kanbukōhosei) in the Imperial Japanese Army, leaving her behind at his family's home. She was persecuted by his family and attempted to reach out to him for help but was ignored. When she could no longer bear it she fled to her own family's home, where Raizō was born. The relationship between her and her husband having deteriorated, Raizo's mother intended to raise him on her own. At this point she received repeated petitions from her husband's brother-in-law, Ichikawa Kudanji III, to allow him to raise the child. She initially refused these offers, but ultimately relented, and Raizō was officially adopted by Kudanji at the age of six months. Raizō was not aware of his adoption until he was 16 years old, and he did not meet his mother in person until he was 30.