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Goodbye, Donald Richie

February 19, 2013

Sad news:  Donald Richie, one of the leading English-writing film critics, died today in Tokyo at age 88.  

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Richie helped introduce several generations of Americans – including me and probably many of this blog’s readers to two great Japanese directors:  Akira Kurosawa and Yasujiro Ozu.  If you’ve ever seen Ozu’s Tokyo Story or Kurosawa’s Kagemusha, Red Beard, or Dreams, you’ve seen Richie’s work.  If you’ve listened to the commentary track on Criterion DVDs for Ozu’s Story of Floating Weeds or Early Summer; Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel, Rashomon, Lower Depths, Bad Sleep Well; or Mikio Naruse’s When a Woman Ascends the Stairs, you’ve heard Richie’s work. 

Richie autographed for me a copy of his Donald Richie Reader:  50 Years of Writing on Japan.  Some books of his that I can recommend are

For a sampling of his film essays, I can recommend going to the Criterion blog and searching on “Richie".”

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Translating film dialogue into subtitles presents special challenges, because translations are required to be short, easy to parse, but ideally should capture double meanings and puns (without the use of footnotes).  I hope in a future post to illustrate how Richie tackled this problem as a translator, referring both to the original script and the subtitle translation.  (Time is a bit at a premium right now, and to find such examples requires a bit of time, since one can not “scan through a film” the way one can quickly scan through a book.) 

Richie was followed, in due course, by a new generation of film critics – who had better Japanese skills than he did.  But their path was made easier because of Richie’s pioneering work.

So for now, I simply want to mourn his passing.

Here is a brief video interview with Richie on Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar where you can sense Richie’s strong emotional connection with films:

(HT:  Criterion)

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