The Legacy of Donald Richie

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DONALD RICHIE An Appreciation

by Peter Grilli

Written for the Memorial Gathering at International House of Japan, Tokyo (April 15, 2013)

As the world mourns “Donald Richie, the writer,” “Donald Richie, the renowned expert on Japanese cinema” and “Donald Richie, the insightful commentator on Japan,” I stand in awe of the deluge of affection and gratitude that has greeted the news of his death. One might well expect such a response from the community of specialists on film history or on Japan, the critics, historians and academic experts who had benefited for decades from his work. It could be no less, after all, since Richie had written so extensively on those subjects and is counted among the iconic giants of these fields of study. But the tributes, letters, essays, e-mails, blogs and tweets flowing from countless admirers who had never met him or heard him speak – people who knew him only from his writings – is nothing less than astonishing. “He changed my life” or “he opened my eyes to new worlds” are common themes. Or “he showed me how to see.”
Donald changed my own life in many ways... and, indeed, he showed me how to see. He has been a direct and continual influence on me since childhood, and I know he will remain so for the rest of my life. In every person’s life there are certain individuals – apart from the parents responsible for one’s very existence – who teach or shape or inspire, who mold or influence one’s consciousness in fundamental ways. Donald Richie was such a one for me: a mentor, a teacher, a role model, a friend, a beloved “uncle” unrelated by blood. I will always be in his debt.

Remembering Donald Richie: A Living Tribute

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Donald Richie, a world authority on Japanese film, culture and the post-World War II lives of the Japanese, passed away in Tokyo on February 19, 2013. He was 88. Born in Lima, Ohio on April 17, 1924, Donald grew up with a love for cinema. He moved to Japan on December 31, 1946 as part of the U.S. Occupation. During the early part of his stay in Japan, he worked as a typist and civilian staff writer for the U.S. Military newspaper, the Pacific Stars and Stripes. He returned to the U.S. and received a B.S. in English from Columbia University before going back to Japan. He went on to write several books on Japan and its cinema and filmmakers as well as other topics. He wrote for English-language publications in Japan including The Japan Times, in which he had a regular column as a film critic, and the Tokyo Journal, for which he interviewed and contributed several pieces over the years.

Donald Richie Interview by Pat Carome

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The following interview with Donald Richie first appeared in the April 1992 edition of the Tokyo Journal

DONALD Richie seems at home in the quiet confines of Roppongi’s International House, a scholarly association where he recently accompanied a silent film showing on the piano.

Our small table in the coffee shop straddles two dimensions: the din and clatter of the lunchtime crowd on one side, the carefully pruned garden outside the window on the other.

Richie is credited with bringing Japanese film to the eyes and ears of the outside world. Hanging on the walls of his home next to his shelves of books are among other honors, the U.S. Citation of the National Film Critic’s Society and the San Francisco Film Society Award.

Of his 3o books, 11 are about film. Four are novels and one is a collection of profiles of Japanese. “I don’t know exactly what to call it.” He says. “I find it in the strangest places in bookstores.” He’s also presented career retrospectives of Kurosawa, Mizoguchi, and Ozu at the Cannes and Berlin film festivals.

In his beige tweed jacked worn over a navy blue shirt and a narrow brown tie, he looks every bit the part of someone’s kind uncle. But he has definite concerns about the accuracy of how he’s presented. “Make sure you get the chronology straight,” he insists.

Winter Solstice:1947

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The following article by Donald Richie is a reprint of his article that first appeared in the Tokyo Journal in April 1991.

IN 1947 Postwar Tokyo was a city of silence, its populace stunned by massive destruction and despair. Yet a young GI witnessed signs that the people were on a slow mend, ready to rebuild Tokyo and themselves. It was winter – cold, crisp, clear – and Mt. Fuji stood sharp on the horizon, growing purple, then indigo in the fading light. I was standing at the main crossing at Ginza 4-chome.

There was no smoke because there were few factories, no fumes because the few cars were charcoal-burning. Fuji looked much as it had for Hokusai and Hiroshige.

Then the sky darkened and the stars appeared – bright, near. The horizon stayed white in the winter light after the sun had vanished and Fuji had turned a solid black.

The Ginza was illuminated by acetylene torches of the night stalls and the passing headlights of Occupation jeeps and trucks. In the darkness Fuji remained visible, a jagged shadow fading into the winter night.

Most of the buildings were cinders. It was wasteland. And from the crossing Japan’s familiar peak was seen as it had not been seen since Edo times and as it would not be again seen until another catastrophe.
At the crossing there were only two large buildings still standing. One was the Ginza branch of the Mitsukoshi Department Store. But it was gutted, hit by a fire bomb, and even the window frames had been twisted by the heat. Across the street was the white stone Hattori Building with its clock tower. It was much as it had always been, once the clock itself was repaired. With its curved front window, cornices, and pediments, it remained from the pre-war Ginza.

The complete article is available in Issue #271. Click here to order from Amazon

Japan's Seven Int'l Samurai Featured

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Vol. 31, Issue #270's Feature Story identifies Japan's 7 most influential international trailblazers, many of whom have been overlooked by the Japanese public.

Japan's Most Influential Trailblazers

Japan has produced many outstanding individuals throughout its very long history, which dates back to 660 B.C. Visionaries and innovators have throughout history forwarded the efforts of this tiny island nation and due to these contributions, Japan has played a significant role in the region for many centuries. Pioneers such as Takatoshi Mitsui (1622-1694), advanced the way Japan did business through innovation after innovation in the textile sales industry. In the late 1800s, it was the first President of Mitsui & Co., Takashi Masuda, who sought out a global vision for exporting Japanese rice and other goods to Europe.

It is the efforts of global visionaries and innovators of post-World War II Japan that have made Japan a major contributor to the world in the fields of business, technology, film, animation, engineering, architecture, philosophy, art, music, and even athletics. The brand “Made in Japan” has become synonymous with quality, and in this article “Japan’s Seven International Samurai”, we identify Japan’s seven most influential, international trailblazers. These modern day samurai have set themselves apart from the crowd through their global influence and have helped to change the way the world perceives Japan.

It will not go unnoticed that many of Japan’s leading business figures and domestic heroes were left off the list. This is because they did not meet all of the criteria. The seven that were chosen were selected for their courage to enter unchartered waters, their desire to compete on an international scale, and their ability to be one of the best in the world at what they do.

Dancing on Air

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Dancer Adam Young Defies the Odds Battling Cystic Fibrosis

Adam Young is a 32-year old ballet, tap, jazz and contemporary dancer from California with cystic fibrosis (CF) who received a double lung transplant at UCLA in May 2013. He began dancing at the age of six in Riverside, California and won national competitions in the U.S. and Australia at the age of 17, as well as the Kennedy Center Emerging Young Artist Award Scholarship at age 18. He was offered a full scholarship to the renowned Julliard School and the Ailey School in New York but was unable to relocate due to CF complications. Graduating from the University of California, Irvine with honors on full scholarship as a dance major in 2003, he went on to dance with the Nashville Ballet for two seasons. He trained at the National Conservatoire de Paris and has danced, judged and taught throughout the United States and performed internationally in France, Germany, Australia, Canada and Mexico. His professional career was put on hold in 2006 when cystic fibrosis caused his lung capacity to fall below 40%. Adam’s determination to overcome an addiction to pharmaceutical drugs through a 12-step program in 2010 allowed him to receive his 2013 lung transplant, which has given Adam a chance to return to the stage and continue pursuing his passion for dance. TJ talked to Adam about his inspirational story.

Tokyo Anti-Nuclear Demonstrations

Japan's anti-nuclear demonstrations march on. Japan's residents take to the streets. Friday protests in front of the Prime Minister's residence have become the norm.

TJ Archived Feature Story: Issue #248 Fall 2003

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This Archived Feature Article is taken from the Autumn 2003 Issue #248 which was a best-selling issue that featured a number of Japan's foremost business leaders 

Carlos Ghosn, the ambassador of change, the icebreaker, le cost killer, the troubleshooter, or however you wish to refer to him, is Japan’s hero that has provided a glimmer of hope to leaders of thousands of ailing corporations who are desperately seeking solutions to their problems. Ghosn boldly entered Japan’s business arena with a passion and determination that had not been seen by the Japanese since Akio Morita and Sony took the US electronics market by storm. Since arriving in Japan in 1999, Ghosn took Nissan from the brink of bankruptcy to a profit-making entity in just two years.

Terrie’s Outtakes

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FITCH, an international credit rating agency, sent shock waves through the Japanese stock market in November by cutting the ratings of Sony and Panasonic, two of the country’s bedrock electronics manufacturing companies, to junk for the first time. This came after Fitch reduced Sharp’s credit rating to junk earlier that month.

Living Legends

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