Wednesday, 1 August 2012

The Japan Journals: 1947-2004

Fans of Japanese Cinema will no doubt have encountered Donald Richie at some point. Richie has written extensively on Japanese Film (his book on Yasujiro Ozu remains the definitive study of the director's films) and in recent years has appeared on introductions and performed commentary duties on a number of Criterion DVDs. In 1954 Richie permanently settled in Tokyo and took a job with the The Japan Times as a film critic. In 1959 he published his first book The Japanese Film: Art and Industry, and since then has written over 40 books on Japanese life and culture, among them perhaps his most famous work The Inland Sea, (1971) a classic of travel writing. The Japan Journals collects various writings, sketches and diary entries from 1947, shortly after Richie first arrived in Tokyo, to 2004 when Richie turned 80. The sheer scope of the book is breathtaking, as it chronicles almost 60 years of Japanese life, culture, politics, fashion and sexuality. Reflected in the Journals is a remarkable life lived - Richie writes about his first meeting with Kurosawa on the set of Drunken Angel, his friendships with Yukio Mishima and composer Toru Takemitsu, and such was his position in Japanese society in later years, that he could discuss films with Japan's Empress. Richie could be equally at home in a Japan which had little to do with tea ceremonies and kabuki, and throughout the Journals, are Richie's encounters with the ordinary citizens of Japan - the taxi drivers, the prostitutes, the sex workers, and the homeless.

The Japan Journals is not one of Richie's film books per se but there are enough luminaries of post-war Japanese Cinema scattered among the pages to make it required reading for film fans. Kurosawa figures prominently throughout as does Oshima, and there are enjoyable cameo appearances by the likes of Toshiro Mifune, Shintaro Katsu (of Zatoichi fame), Koji Wakamatsu (director of Violated Angels) and Takeski Kitano, plus visting American film makers like Francis Ford Coppola, later joined by Paul Schrader, both of whom were seeking Richie's help putting together Schrader's 1985 film Mishima. The book contains a wealth of wonderful anecdotes, which are best left for the reader to discover himself but among my favourites is a journal entry from 1981 with Richie attending a special screening of Fellini's City of Women arranged for Kurosawa. The film was shown without Japanese subtitles and afterwards Richie asked Kurosawa why he wanted to see the film. Kurosawa replied "I'm going to Sorrento to pick up the Donatello prize and Fellini is supposed to give it to me. Then we have to talk about something. I though I should see his new picture".

Donald Richie (left) on set with Akira Kurosawa

The Japan Journals is available through Amazon US/UK on paperback and kindle.

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