In Memoriam: Donald Richie

"There are many reasons to remember films other than their stories," noted Donald Richie for his series Critic's Choice: Donald Richie on Japanese Film, which screened at Japan Society in fall 2001. Likewise, Japan Society has many reasons to remember and celebrate the life of Donald Richie, who died on February 19 in Tokyo at the age of eighty-eight.

Kyoko Hirano, former Director of Japan Society’s Film Center and a longtime friend of Donald Richie, shares her memories:

"It is my privilege (indeed, for not everyone knew him personally) to write about Richie-san. I feel that I can never fully express his greatness. He not only introduced the giants of Japanese classic film to the rest of the world—Kurosawa, Ozu, Mizoguchi, Naruse, Kinoshita, Gosho, Hani, Oshima, Shinoda and so on—but was always interested in upcoming young talents like Hayashi, Sakamoto, Kore-eda and Shinozaki, and promoted them tirelessly. Richie-san's broad knowledge and practice in literature, art and music enlightened us as to how to appreciate Japanese film and culture, and thanks to him, people outside of Japan know about Japanese film. For decades, Japan Society benefited from a strong relationship with Richie-san, as he abundantly shared his ideas, and inspired and connected people through his generous spirit. He enchanted people, young and old, and his extraordinary humanity created devoted fans all over the world."

Donald Richie's life work brought the best of Japanese culture to Western audiences. Acknowledged as the foremost authority on Japanese film, and named by TIME magazine as “the dean of Japan’s art critics,” he was one of the West’s most influential experts on Japanese culture. Mr. Richie lived in Japan for over 60 years, arriving New Year’s Day 1947 as feature writer and film critic for The Pacific Stars and Stripes, and returning in 1953 as film critic for The Japan Times. He taught at Temple University in Tokyo, and was on their Board of Governors. Among his numerous honors are the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Cultural Award, the John D. Rockefeller 3rd Award and The Japan Foundation Award.

Mr. Richie, who served on Japan Society's Film Advisory Committee for many years, received the Japan Society Award in 2001 (awarded to him jointly with Mary Griggs Burke) for his contribution to the arts and to a more enlightened U.S.-Japan relationship. We will miss him greatly.

Photo: Donald Richie recalls his five decades as the premier Western cultural commentator on Japan at ‘From the Postwar to the Present: Inside Japan with Donald Richie,’” a lecture at Japan Society on October 2, 2001. © Ken Levinson

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