I feel a agreat debt of gratitude to the two Japanophile Donalds: Donald Keene for introducing much of modern Japanese literature to readers of English and Donald RIchie for introducing much of post-WWII Japanese cinema, particularly the work of Ozu and Kurosawa about each of whose films he has written books to readers of English (subtitles and criticism). One of many comic cross-cultural misunderstandings in his Japan Journals, 1947-2004 reports someone Japanese who assumed the two must be married… taking for granted that “Donald” was the family name and deciding that Keene must be a male name and Richie a female name in English. I understand the mistake about family name and given name order, but don’t know why they couldn’t have been thought to be brothers.
Keene could speak and read Japanese before he spent time there, whereas Richie (who was born in 1924 in Lima, Ohio) learned to speak Japanese only with extended residence. Also, Keene is an academic, Richie a free-land journalist, but Keene wrote for Japanese newspapers, too, and Richie’s Films of Akira Kurosawa is published by the University of California Press. Both thought they were close to Mishima, though neither anticipated the carnival of is suicide (and afterwards, both realized there were many signs they had missed and that Mishima was using each of them for various purposes of promoting his image abroad).
Both write fairly self-deprecatingly and with wit about fellow Americans in Japan and with great admiration for Kawabata Yansuri, the first Japanese winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. Richie’s journals include insightful observations on Oshima Nagisa and Teshigahara Hiroshi from among the Japanese New Wave after the classical humanism of Ozu, Mizoguchi, Kurosawa, and Ichikawa, though he does not seem to have known Imamura Shohei as well.
There is not much about Keene in Richie’s Japan Journals, but Edward Seidensticker and John Nathan, two other academics who translated Japanese literature (and also overestimated how well they knew Mishima) appear frequently, and mostly kindly. (I know from reading his own journals, Genji Days, that Seidensticker could be quite difficult even before he got old.)
There is a particularly wry account of attempting to shepherd Stephen Spender and Alberto Moravia around after an international literary conferences. They were not interested in seeing the “real” Japan (Richie’s conception of traditional Japan), but no one seems to have been quite as egocentric and ethnocentric as Truman Capote. Who was there to write about Marlon Brando (at the time shooting “Sayonara”). There are much more sympathetic portrayals of more discerning visitors, including Igor Stravinsky, Lincoln Kirstein, Sofia Coppola, and Susan Sontag.
The bombed-out and impoverished Tokyo to which Richie came in 1947 has metamorphosed into a postmodernist metropolis and the Japanese film industry’s golden age was in the 1950s, Richie has discerning things to say about changes in the society and in film culture and is an engaging guide here as in his travel books and film books and in bonus features or commentary tracks on many a Criterion DVD. (BTW, he also wrote George Stevens: An American Romantic, a book I got him to sign when he was here on tour for the Donald Richie Reader.)
Though I think the book is more entertaining the more of the characters the reader knows, I think I’d find just the accumulation of experiences as an alien in a country where few believe that outsiders can understand the language, let alone the culture and spirit of the country, is interesting, but then I have been fascinated by many books about English-speakers experiences in Japan (including, recently Nathan’s and Keene’s memoirs, Moravia’s, and Seidinsticker’s Genji Days journals).