Donald Richie, Author and Critic, Dies at 88

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by Matt Singer
February 19, 2013 11:10 AM
2 Comments
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"The Japan Journals: 1947-2004."
Fandor's Keyframe Daily has the sad news that Donald Richie, the influential writer, historian, and film critic who spent his life sharing his love of Japanese film and culture with the world, has died. He was 88 years old. 

At Keyframe, David Hudson also rounds up notable recent essays on and interviews with the late Richie; he's got videos, audio, book reviews, and lengthy articles. He also includes Richie's obituary from the Japan Times, which provides some of the biographic details about how this American writer became such a prolific expert on the subject of Japanese cinema:

"Richie, who was born in Lima, Ohio, on April 17, 1924, first came to Japan with the U.S. Occupation force in 1947. He soon began working for Pacific Stars and Stripes, where he gained a reputation as a prolific writer of film reviews. After a stint back in the United States, he returned to Japan and began writing regularly for The Japan Times in 1954. Richie wrote hundreds of articles for the newspaper, covering not only film, but his other passions of theater, literature and art."

Eventually, Richie moved from reviews and articles to essays and books -- and it's those books that will surely be his legacy.  Richie eventually wrote more than thirty of them, and nearly every film and film studies student in this country has crossed paths with at least one of them over the course of their academic careers, whether it's his "A Hundred Years of Japanese Film" or his studies of the works of Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu. In six years as an undergrad and graduate student, I read excerpts from all three. 

Cinephiles may also recognize Richie's name from his frequent contributions to The Criterion Collection, where he provided excellent DVD and Blu-ray commentaries for many Japanese films, including "Rashomon," "Seven Samurai," "A Story of Floating Weeds," and "Crazed Fruit." Richie was also an accomplished experimental filmmaker; according to Catherine Grant of Film Studies For Free, Apichatpong Weerasethakul "hoped to work with him" on an upcoming project. Unfortunately, Richie's poor health kept us from seeing what would have surely been a uniquely fascinating collaboration. Thankfully, his work in print will endure for decades to come.

Read more of "Donald Richie, 1924-2013."

Richie on "Au Hasard Balthazar:"

Richie on "Harakiri:"

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2 Comments

  • Daryl Chin | February 19, 2013 4:34 PMReply

    This news saddens me beyond words. I got to know Donald during his tenure as the Curator of Film at The Museum of Modern Art in the early 1970s: his six-month survey of Japanese cinema was an immense undertaking which opened the Japanese cinema to the West beyond Kurosawa and Mizoguchi (who had been art house staples since the 1950s). In addition, he was open to so much of the international cinema, both past and present. I remember once sitting with him while he explained his admiration for Dreyer's GERTRUD; another time, he was enthusiastic about Hollis Frampton's ZORNS LEMMA. My fondest memory was working with him on the Robert Bresson retrospective at MoMA in the winter of 1970. I shall always treasure his wit, his immense erudition, and his friendship.

  • Arch | February 19, 2013 1:37 PMReply

    After Oshima's death that's another really sad news in the field of Japanese film studies. Richie's work was and still is a must read as far as I'm concerned.
    As always Catherine Grant did a great job, everyone should check out these links she gathered (and bookmark FSFF while you're at it). It includes Richie's "Film Style and National Character" available online from the University of Michigan website along with Burch's "To the distant observer" here : https://www.cjspubs.lsa.umich.edu/electronic/michclassics/online/online.php

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