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Donald Richie, 1924-2013



Richie was as valuable a guide to classical Japanese film as one could reasonably hope to have. His taste becomes increasingly cranky as we move closer to the present, as his critical generosity seems to diminish and his frustrations grow over time (notable exception, for understandable reasons: Koreeda, whom he rightly reveres). But for anything pre-1975ish, Richie is exceptionally valuable. My understanding is that he played a considerable role in getting Japanese films out to the world as well. I have some differences with his global interpretation of Ozu, but the book is fantastic; excellent essays not just on Ozu’s individual films but on his technique and working habits, is a fascinating read. (His account of Ozu’s script writing process is fascinating: take collaborator up to his remote mountain home, stay there, drinking heavily, until its done. He kept a meticulous journal tracking a) progress on script and b) alcohol consumed. The entry at the end of the Tokyo Story script writing: “Finished. 103 days, 43 bottles of Sake.”) 100 Years of Japanese Film is quite valuable (although the DVD guide is happily out of date). I’ve never seen any of his own films, which I am made aware of only through Wikipedia. In fact, I’ve only ever known Richie through his film writings, so I’m learning a great deal about him from his obituaries.

2009 interview on Japanese directors here, with his thoughts and insights on Kurosawa’s decline, and the Kurowawa/Mifune falling out, amongst other things.

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  • Matthew B.

    Very sorry to hear this. I finally got around to buying my own copy of his Ozu book just a couple of days ago. The Japanese Film: Art and Industry is also indispensable for anyone seriously interested in the topic, though it only really covers the period up to around 1960.

    One of the few films I’d seen him enthusiastic about in recent years is Germanium Nights a.k.a. The Whispering of the Gods; that surprised me a little, since it didn’t really strike me as his kind of thing.

  • Elton in Baltimore

    The Criterion Collection released Donald Richie’s film “The Inland Sea” on laserdisc several years ago. It’s a beautifully photographed paean to Japan, with a marvelous score, by Toru Takemitsu. I wish they’d reissue the film on DVD or BluRay.

  • JamesP

    A great writer, though THE INLAND SEA can cause a few double-takes, like the bit where he tries to bang a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl, then masturbates to fantasies of raping her instead.

  • djw

    Huh. Two descriptions of the same movie; two different takeaways.

  • Matthew B.

    I think JamesP was talking about the book, not the subsequent documentary.

  • Yeah, I was bummed to see this. Richie’s work on Japanese film was pioneering (for English speakers, at least) and invaluable. I might disagree with some of his analyses, but most of it was solid and the breadth was impressive.

  • Oliver

    Donald Richie: as spot-on regarding Ozu and Kurosawa (and, equally importantly, Kurosawa’s post-Mifune decline into stagey didacticism) as he was petulantly clueless, indeed outright reactionary, when it came to Miyazaki and Takahata.


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