THE DONALD RICHIE READER: 50 Years of Writing on Japan

Donald Richie, Author, Arturo Silva, Compiled by
Donald Richie, Author, Arturo Silva, Compiled by , compiled and edited by ArturoSilva. Stone Bridge $19.95 (238p) ISBN 978-1-880656-61-7 ISBN 1-880656-58-2
Reviewed on: 05/28/2001
Release date: 06/01/2001
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Because this collection is carefully panoramic and because 50 years is a hefty chunk of time both for a man and for a country healing itself, this volume is part anthology, part autobiography and part longitudinal social criticism—a happy convergence for a book less than 300 pages long. It seems that since arriving in Japan in 1947 as a postwar occupier, Richie has not stopped noticing, dissecting and introducing to the West aspects of Japan, both tangible and otherwise. The result is clearly seen in cross-section here, divided into a number of thematic sections. There are "serious" and dedicated writings on Japanese film, as well as more desultory analyses of social oddities and of gardens and architecture. There are Zen stories retold; spontaneous musing on tattoos, Disneyland and the sex industry; portraits of people mundane and famous; and, peppered through it all, brutally honest reflections on the human frailties of being a not-so-accidental tourist. The humility of the outsider enables him to observe without feeling threatened or resorting to solipsistic (and cheap) comparisons to the West, while his self-assuredness as an incisive observer enables him to get closer to the Japanese, one feels, than even the Japanese themselves. For these reasons, Richie's writings are rendered with a quiet but persistent energy, and the collection, profiting from his versatility, never gets tiresome. His unpublished autobiographical Japan Journals yield some ture gems, while a selection of his underacknowledged fiction (which Richie defines rather loosely) is also represented. The collection should not serve as a substitute for reading Richie's strongest works (on Ozu's film, for example) in their entirety, but for those who wish to go along for the half-century-long ride with the author, it is a satisfying sampler of the expatriate writer's scope and depth. (June)

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