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Donald Richie, The Japan Journals: 1947–2004

Donald Richie’s The Japan Journals: 1947–2004

Article first published as Book Review: The Japan Journals: 1947-2004 by Donald Richie on Blogcritics.

This is what every memoir should be. Unhindered by any attempt to be self-serving, Donald Richie’s The Japan Journals: 1947-2004 is about the most unflinchingly honest opening of the tightly turned lid of self you'll ever read. You can't help but like an autobiographer willing to welcome you this deeply into his 510-page heart. Not that there's a paucity of things to like about Donald Richie. One of the most underrated writers of the last 50 years, Richie wields his pen with a depth of insight that more famous writers would swap Booker Prizes for, and his command of detail and emotion are on par with the best—even here in a ‘journal’. Although journal in name, The Japan Journals is more than nighttime afterthought, for Richie realised early on that the detritus of his daily life was destined for the shelves of others, and therefore wrote accordingly—with concentration and abundant skill. Richie isn't just an interesting writer—he's an interesting human being, a person who has lived a life filled with fascinating and often famous others—Yukio Mishima, Marguerite Yourcenar, Emperor Hirohito and Francis Ford Coppola to name a few. Included is perhaps the most insightful assessment of the internal life of the near impossible to comprehend Mishima, while it is highly likely that Richie is the inspiration for Bill Murray’s character in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, for he tells of spending time with the teenaged director-to-be in Tokyo. Better known as the leading Western authority on Japanese film, the beyond erudite Donald Richie could also be subtitled the ‘Gore Vidal who chose to live in Japan’. Equally talented and insightful as the American polemicist, Richie is more heartfelt to Vidal’s glib, and therefore on final reckoning, even more rewarding.

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Not fool of facts

Maria, a neglected poet from Moscow, a.k.a“Red Squirrel,” has tagged me to write eight random facts about myself. At this point I can almost see my collective readership heading towards to the little red button in the corner of their browser windows, long suffered already twenty-six facts about me, me, me (Thirteen Facts About Me as a Child and There’s a Sequel in this)—but hey, it’s an official invitation, and self-indulgence a near bottomless topic. Eight facts about me, possibly involving a Russian theme
  1. One of the courses I enjoyed the most at university was a first year paper entitled“Russian Civilisation,” taken purely by chance and desperation after failing my first semester. It is a mystery to me still why I took Philosophy, Psychology and German (verrückt!), and not entirely a mystery why I failed—passing, I later learnt, requires actual study—but one thousand years of Russian history was something of a hidden gem, and inspiration when such was very much lacking—the Mongol hordes, Peter the Great, music of Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky, authors Dostoevsky, Checkhov, Gogol and Tolstoy, painter Kandinsky, the Revolution and of course Gorbachev—all avidly read, listened and consumed. Attendance of these eagarly awaited, two times a week lectures turned an until this point miserable academic career completely around, and as a bonus, was taught by actual Russians—sadly, the same positive didn't apply earlier in the German faculty. Career diplomats from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs even walked down the road to give guest lectures.
  2. I had a school friend that was Russian. This was somewhat unusual in 1980s New Zealand, and so was he; I was nice to him really because no one else was—I felt sorry for him and the often self-perpetuated misery he was enduring. I even forgave him the time he announced that he had figured me out—“I worked out what you are—you're pompous!” I tried his caviar sandwiches once but didn’t acquire the taste.
  3. I had a dream once of being in a large school hall surrounded by people from all over the world, feeling happier than I had since childhood, as though I was a child again, sitting on the ground talking to another child, a child who seemed to be my best ever friend—a Russian boy. Almost every aspect of this dream eventually came true.
  4. Despite long wanting I have never been to Russia—except in dream-flight. Another vivid night-time vision, at almost the same time as the previous saw me in Russia, and as a musician. While not exactly booking my flight or practising the piano, I am somewhat curious to see if this will one day come to pass.
  5. I am still waiting for a politician, possibly human being to admire more than Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev. Ronald Reagan stopped the Cold War indeed...
  6. A film and drama major at University—once I discovered how to pass (and study)—I went through something of a Russian cinema phase; the watching of mother and father of modern film montage, Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin (Bronenosets Potyomkin, 1925), course prerequisite and introduction to a host of realistic yet lyrical, near forgotten works. One of my favourites, a example of poetic film-making rare even today is Aleksandr Dovzhenko’s Earth (Zemlya, 1930), which to quote one reviewer:
    Dovzhenko’s“film poem” style brings to life the collective experience of life for the Ukranian proles, examining natural cycles through his epic montage. He explores life, death, violence, love and other issues as they relate to the collective farms. An idealistic vision of the possibilities of Communism made just before Stalinism set in and the Kulak class was liquidated
    Lyrically beautiful, Earth is also deeply tragic, a poignant example of what could have been, in film and in real life; the last film of its kind before Stalin’s iron fist descended. I even sat through the dense, almost impregnable works of Andrei Tarkovsky—Ivan’s Childhood (Ivanovo Detstvo, 1962), The Sacrifice (Offret, 1986) and the original Solaris (Solyaris, 1972—Steven Soderbergh’s 2002 remake is surprisingly watchable, and worth it for the soundtrack alone)—all watched but not completely understood; example enough of the graphic realism, lyricism and otherworldly transcendentalism which I dream of one day etching as keywords to my own masterpiece. My favourite Russian film of all? Come and See (Idi I Smotri, 1985) by Elem Klimov, a film more brutal than I could stomach a second time, yet containing an near unique, hallucinatory otherworldiness and sensitivity—a young boy wanders in a daze through the countryside and the atrocities of World War II Byelorussia.
  7. My favourite author for a period was Alexander Solzhenitsyn, the 1970 Nobel Prize winner in literature. His combination of politics, realism, sense of justice, morality, absurdity and irony mirrored my own at the time of reading, and his personal account of some of the darkest days of Russian history are, like a car wreck, compulsive viewing.
  8. My eighth and final fact? Visitors from the Russian Federation rank eighth in the list of visitors to this site. And I really am not making that up.
Feeling quite the spammer already after my last post, I’m not going to personally tag anyone to participate in this meme, but should you want to list eight random facts about yourself, I’m sure you know the drill. Come and See trialer http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMKwMzLj8Ow

A Weekend with David Lynch

Lynch Weekend Bente Loevhaug, Project Manager for the upcoming David Lynch Weekend got in touch to let me know that, and the title is kind of a give-away here, David Lynch—as in the famous film-maker and perhaps not so famous meditator—is hosting a special weekend next month, subtitled“Exploring the frontiers of consciousness, creativity and the brain.” Personally I’m not terribly interested in the frontier of the brain, but very much so uncharted vistas of consciousness and creativity—probably why I went to the trouble of writing a review of Lynch’s excellent Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity in the first place. Iowa is a little off the beaten trail for me personally to attend, so in leiu of listening to David Lynch talk in person I’m going to settle for repeating a few choice words of his on meditation and creativity, topics dear to my own heart.
“I meditate in the morning and in the evening, for half an hour each time. I don't know what my life would be without meditation and I never have missed one session anywhere. I've meditated every day for the past 23 years. It cleans the nervous system, which is the instrument of consciousness. Little by little, a person becomes a hair more aware of what's going on. The bad things that happen don't hit you so hard, and you're not overpowered by success. Success can be even more dangerous than failure.” “Well, you know, I'm a meditator, and the idea of that is to expand consciousness by clearing the machines of consciousness, which is the nervous system, and the greater the consciousness, you know... I think in the analogy of fishing, the deeper your hook can go to catch the bigger ideas. And its very important to get down in there. Sitting comfortably, in a chair, drifting off, not trying to manipulate what's in front of you, sometimes you can drop into a beautiful area or bounce up to higher whichever way you want to see it into a beautiful area and catch ideas.”

Writing Peaks

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9kejvxRokg Sensitivitytothings.com hit the big time recently, or at least its author thinks so, his review of David Lynch’s Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity being published by blogcritics.org, and from there syndicated to outer space, or at least anywhere under roof, stars and internet connectivity. David LynchI may be highly susceptible to faint praise, but am wearing proudly two comments posted by blogcritics editors G.L. Hauptfleisch and Natalie Bennett, who commended my first submission as “Nice review, well expressed” and “This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net, which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States. Nice work!” respectively. Thanks for that—I do appreciate being appreciated. You can of course still read the review here, but I’ll forgive you if you want to read it there: Now that I mention it, it seems I have an excuse to post another clip from David Lynch’s alternatively sublime, alternately surreal Twin Peaks, a rare moment of beginning of the 90’s television lucidity so out of the ordinary it might not be entirely of this world...

Fishing with David Lynch

David Lynch's first film, Eraserhead (1977), a dark, disturbing and deeply surreal exploration of the directors own subconscious, was initially pronounced as un-releasable upon completion, but in short time became a cult classic and critical success, launching Lynch to the forefront of avant-garde film-making and earning him the favour of Stanley Kubrick, who proclaimed Eraserhead one of his all-time favourite films. lynch_catching_the_big_fish.jpgThirty years later David Lynch is still exploring the sub-conscious, and unusually for a notoriously private director who refuses to discuss the details of his plots or their meanings, has written a book about... himself. Not a traditional biography mind you, but a surreal, whimsical exploration of his own consciousness. His legion of fans would expect nothing less. In Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity, David Lynch puts aside his filmic quest to get inside the viewer’s head and lets them instead inside his, an invitation almost as rare as a ticket to fiction’s Wonka Chocolate Factory, and possibly just as out of this world.
“When I first heard about meditation I had zero interest in it, I wasn’t even curious. It sounded like a waste of time. What got me interested though was the phrase, ‘True happiness lies within.’ ”
So begins Catching the Big Fish, and from the very first page, as though entering a state of deep meditation, ordinary reality is left—along with one’s shoes—at the door. A practitioner of meditation for twenty minutes, two times a day, for over thirty years, Lynch invites the reader on a mind-altering journey, expounding upon his commitment to Transcendental Meditation and the powerful creative wellspring it has provided him in 85 alternatively light and lofty chapters, many in koan-like form. Citing his daily sessions of silence and inner happiness as essential to the creative process, one can only wonder what kind of films this director might have made otherwise—Academy Award nominated Blue Velvet (1986) among the most disturbing, unsettling films of all time. Catching the Big Fish is a blend of thoughts and themes, sometimes random like a stream of consciousness, or the analogy he personally prefers for creativity, casting a hook into a bottomless sea, and melds biography, film analysis, philosophy and spirituality with a heart on sleeve sincerity, narrating the author’s passion for charting the world of dreams and ideas and rendering them unto action. Few probably realise that this famously reclusive director is putting his own money into establishing meditation centres around the world, or that he has founded the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and Peace to further his meditative ideals. A little like a rare sighting of the Loch Ness Monster, any public appearance of one of the greatest American directors of modern cinema is compulsory viewing, or reading in this case, and whether or not you are ready to tread the same waters, Catching the Big Fish is worth at least a dip.

Procrastination?

susan_cooper.jpgSadly, I'm in the midst of writing a non-blog piece at the moment—sadly because it makes me foresworn from lavishing even half-devoted attention to this barely born web diary until finished. All the same, and please don't tell my editor, in the course of researching work-in-progress I came across the following gem to share, an interview with English children's author Susan Cooper, best known for her profoundly powerful, mythic The Dark is Rising series (soon to be a film):
Question: Because you write about extraordinary events, do strange things ever happen to you? Susan Cooper: Yes, sometimes they do. When I began to write 'Silver on the Tree', I found it very hard and I remember going to stay the weekend with my American publisher, I told her I was having trouble and she said, "Let's talk about it in the morning, let's go for a walk now." We went for a walk in the meadow behind her house and three things happened: We saw two swans swimming in the river, an enormous bumble-bee came flying past my nose (very late in the afternoon for a bumble-bee to be about) and then my publisher told me a tale of a strange black mink, which she'd seen in the meadow last summer and I suddenly realised that in my first chapter I had two swans, a bumble-bee and a black mink! Now that is pure coincidence, but it's the sort of thing that gives you tingles and it certainly encouraged me to go on with the book.
The cross-over between fact and fiction, dream and reality, sanity and not is one of my favourite subjects—more abiding interest really—and not just because I spend time in consciousness-altering meditation every day. I was fascinated by the idea of the unreal being real from an earliest age; there was something just beyond comprehension, always gnawing away, whispering that the magical might exist in this world, just out of my reach. Which reminds me of an essay written by Indian spiritual master Sri Aurobindo, and now I really am getting diverted, called“The Intermediate Zone,” on the realm of consciousness just beyond the waking state, where dreams and half-truths take shape, informed by regions ever higher and more perfect... But no I must stop or else there will be no turning back, or finishing of what is almost finished, head turned, attention diverted by the charms of sudden temptation, and the glowing inspiration of the just started. Is this the definition of procrastination? Or just distraction.