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The Honorable Visitor: Episode Four

Well, as you might have noticed, my fourth episode has debuted. I have gotten some emails and blog posts about the episode, both kind-worded comments and some questions.

(Find the episode below)

So, I thought it might be fruitful to supplement the segment with a bit more about why Donald Richie was my focus and offer a venue for any questions about the man, his work or his philosophy. For me, it was a great pleasure to interview Richie, truly a legend of academia and cinema.

As was clearly displayed in the episode, Richie has authored more than 40 books on Japanese culture and thousands of articles and reviews through his weekly columns and inclusion in anthologies and other publications. He is a legend of academia and the man responsible for introducing Japanese film to the world. Moreover, he is an authority on cinema worldwide, with a short tenure as the Curator of Film at the New York Museum of Modern Art being the only interuption of his six decades living in Tokyo.

Our interview was in the storeroom of a tiny Japanese club where he was hosting a night of 1960s era Japanese avant-garde film. The club was packed with internationals and Japanese alike, all there for Mr. Donald Richie. (For more on the night, see the previous blog, ‘Donald Richie’).

Among students here in the city, he is universally known and revered and even the professors I know at my university hold a deep and unquestioned respect for the man. Knowing of him and then finding the level of adoration offered for him here in Japan, there was no questioning that I wanted to interview him.

Born in Ohio, he was an American, but one who had come as close to entering Japanese society as possible. Understand, outsiders do not ever become Japanese, a nationality that is as coterminous with an ethnicity as any. (Think, what is an American? Lots of shapes and sizes and colors. Think, what is a Japanese? Not an 82-year-old American-born scholar with black rimmed glasses and stylish suits).

His is a perspective valuable to anyone traveling, most certainly for those interested in the Japanese world.

After a few phone calls and emails, there was little resistance to an interview, showing a graciousness that few exude, especially those with national, indeed international, celebrity. The man is active in academic circles, so I simply pushed and proded professors, asking anyone I knew to find me a phone number or business card that might help me in my quest. Determined and lucky: there is no more efficient means of accomplishing anything.

The night of our interview he arrived late and encircled in whispers. As he came through the door, ushered in by beautiful Japanese women organizing the event, the awaiting crowd immediately began noting to their friend that there, that was Donald Richie.

We had to abandon our interview spot, with a beautiful antique movie reel in the background, as the club had become crowded and noisy. He grabbed a drink as I hastily located and cleaned a spot in the club’s storeroom. He casually and calmly followed me in the back, as I awkwardly apologized.

“We shouldn’t apologize for learning,” Richie said to me in passing. Using the collective pronoun he sweepingly and simply assuaged my apprehension about his disinterest in a twenty-something fledgling interviewer. The interview went well and I was met with Richie’s signature, a flurry of powerful and valuable thoughts, neatly packacked and given with the rough delivery of age and wisdom.

Please feel free to post any comments or questions. I hope you enjoyed the episode.

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