Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Donald Richie

I woke up this morning hearing that Donald Richie had passed away.  One of the few, if not only, voices that expresses Japanese pop and historical cultural into English.  Richie was very much the door entrance to Japan, and all of its peculiar and wonderful cultural adventures that makes that country a spiritual as well as a consumer's sense of heaven.  But of course with heaven, there is always hell around the corner as well.   And Richie exposed and wrote about the culture as a living daily lifestyle.

He's mostly known for his superb books on Japanese cinema.  One can argue that if not for Richie's critical writings, we would not hear of Akira Kurosawa or Yasujiro Ozu in the West.  He organized film retrospectives for these filmmakers, as well as translating the subtitles for the English speaking world.  

Also the great beauty of his work is that he mostly focused on post-war Japan, and he had a huge net where he captured so many aspects of Japanese culture - both good, bad, great, weird, and always fascinating. 

Here are some of his books that is a must-read for anyone with even the slightest interest in the subject matter:

One of the great documents of life in Post-War Tokyo.  Richie knew everyone who was important in Post-War culture. Both in Japan and outside of Japan.  When Susan Sontag first came to Tokyo, the first person she made contact with is Richie.   For the 'interested' Westerner, Richie was the bridge between the two cultures.  He knew the high and the low in equal measures.  Also his personal observations on Kurosawa, Ozu, Oshima, and the Japanese pop cultural world is exposed in his journals.

My first introduction to the works of Ozu.  What intrigued me was not only a book on this obscure (at the time of its printing) filmmaker, but Richie's total understanding of his work and how he conveyed that into words.  Ozu seems simple, but there is nothing simple about his work, and Richie can put his work in a context with respect to modern Japan, old Japanese aesthetics, and which would make sense to an American reader.  One of the great film books.

Richie's "Inland Sea" is one of the first great travel journals regarding a specific region in Japan.  He captures the frustration, the humor, and the adventure of going out and discovering a new world (at the time).  Essential travel literature.

Probably the most important book on Japanese cinema.  He wrote it with Joseph L. Anderson, and for the most, the first introduction to Japanese film and its stars and directors.  Another essential film title for one's library.

But beyond books on Japanese cinema and being an experimental filmmaker, Richie also wrote about the Japanese tattoo, Japanese cooking, eroticism, and many book reviews for his great column in the Japan Times.  And without a doubt, he wrote highly personal books about his favorite city Tokyo, that to this day, are the best observations on that metropolis.  

For an overall of his work, check this out:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Richie

Here are two films by Donald Richie:

Donald Richie's film "Boy With Cat" (1966)

Donald Richie's film "Five Philosophical Fables (Part One)

"Five Philosophical Fables (Part Two)

"Five Philosophical Fables (Part Three)

"Five Philosophical Fables (Part Four)

"Five Philosophical Fables (Part Five)

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