Obituary: Critic and writer Donald Richie, 1924-2013

Donald Richie, the highly regarded American critic and writer on Japan who was instrumental in introducing the English-speaking world to the golden age of Japanese cinema in the late 1950s and 1960s, died on Tuesday, February 19, in Tokyo, where he had lived for the most of his adult life. He was 88 years old.

Donald  Richie scene

Donald Richie (l.) and filmmaker Akira Kurosawa (ctr.) on the set.

Born in Ohio in 1924, Richie first saw Tokyo at a bombed-out city in ruins, arriving in 1947 as a typist with the Allied occupation forces. He spent most of the next seven decades there, gaining a following among Western readers for his writings on Japan and its people.

Richie wrote some 40 books including historical novels, studies of flower arranging and travelogues, all of which were widely praised for humanizing a country and people that were still remembered in the U.S. as wartime foes. He made his biggest mark in his writings on Japanese cinema, led by 1959’s the The Japanese Film: Art and Industry, which he co-wrote with critic Joseph L. Anderson. The book is considered to be the first comprehensive English-language book on Japanese cinema and remains an excellent reference guide to this day.

In the late 1940s, Richie paid his first visit to Japanese studio and met two of the giants of the Japanese cinema, director Akira Kurosawa (Seven Samurai) and actor Toshiro Mifune (High and Low), both of whom maintained a relationship with Richie for many years. Richie went on to pen several books on Kurosawa and his works, along with writing English subtitles for three of his films: Red Beard (1965), Kagemusha (1980) and Dreams (1990).  Richie also wrote other major pieces on Mifune and another great Japanese filmmaker, Yasujiro Ozu.

About Laurence

Founder and editor Laurence Lerman saw Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest when he was 13 years old and that’s all it took. He has been writing about film and video for more than a quarter of a century for magazines, anthologies, websites and most recently, Video Business magazine, where he served as the Reviews Editor for 15 years.