Obituary: Donald Richie / U.S. expert on Japan's culture, life

April 17, 1924 - Feb. 19, 2013

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Donald Richie, a prominent American critic and writer on Japan who helped introduce much of the English-speaking world to the golden age of Japanese cinema in 1959 and recounted his expatriate life there spanning seven decades, died Feb. 19 in Tokyo. He was 88.

His death was confirmed by Christopher Blasdel, a friend.

Mr. Richie wrote prolifically, not just on film and culture in Japan but also on his own travels and experiences there. He won recognition for his soul-baring descriptions of a Westerner's life in an impenetrable but permissive society that held him politely at arm's length while allowing him to explore it nonetheless, from its classical arts to its seedy demimonde.

Openly bisexual, Mr. Richie also wrote frankly about his lovers, both male and female, saying Japan's greater tolerance of homosexuality in the 1940s, relative to that in the United States, was one reason he returned to the country after graduating from Columbia University in 1953. Mr. Richie first saw Tokyo as a bombed-out ruin, arriving in 1947 as a 22-year-old typist with the Allied Occupation forces after serving on transport ships during the war. He spent most of the next 66 years in Tokyo, gaining a following among Western readers for textured descriptions of Japan and its people that transcended Western stereotypes.

His books -- some 40 altogether -- were wide-ranging, including historical novels, studies of flower arranging and travelogues, which were widely praised for humanizing a people still remembered in the United States as a wartime foe. Perhaps his best-known travel memoir, "The Inland Sea" (1971), was the basis of a documentary shown on PBS in 1991.

Mr. Richie made his biggest mark in his writings on Japanese cinema. In 1959, he and the critic Joseph Anderson published "The Japanese Film: Art and Industry," which many film studies experts regard as the first comprehensive English-language book on Japanese movies. He had an enduring acquaintance with director Akiro Kurosawa and actor Toshiro Mifune.

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