Writer Donald Richie dies at 88


Staff Writer

Long-term Japan resident, writer and critic Donald Richie, who through dozens of books and articles published from the late 1940s until the last decade helped introduce Japanese film and culture to the world, passed away in Tokyo on Tuesday, according to his long-term editor, Leza Lowitz. He was 88.

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.

He continued to write for the newspaper through 2009.

Richie also published many books, including “The Japanese Film: Art and Industry,” which he coauthored with Joseph Anderson in 1959.

Between 1969 and 1972, Richie was in New York, working as a curator of film at the New York Museum of Modern Art.

He is also known for his travel writing. “The Inland Sea,” a memoir of his journey to the Seto Inland Sea that was first published in 1971, is considered a classic of the genre.

Richie suffered several heart attacks in the past decade. He is survived by his sister, Jean Reuther, who lives in the U.S.

Below are interviews with Donald Richie over the years as well as Asian Bookshelf book reviews dating back to 2001.

Life in the land where boredom is not an option

Films, Zen, Japan

Donald Richie offers history lesson

A lifetime’s observations

How Lon Chaney led to lifetime of Japanese film

Archive of The Asian Bookshelf book review

  • RIP Donald Ritchie. One of the most consistently interesting writers on Japan.

  • GIJ

    This is truly the end of an era. If you’re a Westerner and you’re at all familiar with the works of Kurosawa, Ozu, and Mizoguchi, it is largely due to the efforts of Donald Richie. Would another young American stationed in occupied, late 1940s Japan have picked up the slack and introduced audiences in the West to Japanese films if Richie had not been there? Maybe, but who knows. Richie turned out to be a person of singular importance in that regard. And he lived to the age of 88, so I’d hardly call his death tragic or heartbreaking news. Rather, let’s celebrate the long life of a man who turned out to be just the right person in the right place at the right time. Richie was also genuinely modest, a product of his humble Midwestern American upbringing in Ohio during the Depression. And finally, he was resolutely independent in his views of Japan, rarely falling into the trap of defending Japan even when the country and its people merited some criticism.

    • DA

      And don’t forget his non-film ouvre of spectacular writing on Japan. Matched by no one else, be it Keene, Kerr or Whiting. R.I.P. Donald.

  • Lynda

    @ GIJ The death of a person of many years and so much knowledge is always tragic and heartbreaking. All that he was is gone. Yes the legacy of his words remains, but the mind and depth of experience that informed that legacy is forever gone. It is a void that cannot be filled. Nothing changes that. I realize that it’s on trend to celebrate a long life; however, this is a time to mourn as well.

  • VeryOldB

    Had the privilege of joining Mr. Richie as he presided over some sociable screenings and light discussions of very serious films in the early 1990s. He was modest and approachable. It was fun.

  • FP3

    You will be missed Donald Richie. Yes, RIP.

  • Jason Fetters

    Very sorry to hear this. I read his Asian Bookshelf column for the past 12-years. He was even kind enough to sign my hardcover copy of the Japan Journals that I mailed to his office at the Japan Times. I have read his books since 2001 so now I will start rereading them, I have most of them including the brilliant novel, Where Are the Victors? about Japan during the Occupation.
    This is a great loss to the literary community that cannot be replaced.

  • F. Meens

    Donald instilled in me a great interest in Japan, its history, people and culture

  • Susan Kelly

    So sad. He had such insight into Japan and a talent for sharing his understandings. A wonderful writer.

  • elle

    Sad to see this so late! I often met him while working in Japan in the early 90’s – lovely man – glad he is at peace