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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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Wave of Beautiful Humanity

Article first published as Bullet-Train TV Commercial Lifts Spirits in Japan on Blogcritics.

Initially withdrawn because of the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami, a television commercial for a new bullet-train line helps a grieving nation dare to smile once more.

mundaneusername: tearing up. Thank you. koy1: why did i cry when i saw this? mundaneusername: Because it shows you what we can be like. ioduae: As silly as it is, it makes me feel a little better about humanity right now. Comments from Reddit.com
When Japan Rail filmed a commercial for their new Kyushu Skinkansen—a bullet train linking the southern-most island of Japan for the first time—all the marketing savvy in the world could not have predicted that it would first air the very day after the greatest earthquake and tsunami in Japanese history. With the entire nation reeling in disbelief, and out of sympathy for the victims, the bubbly, rainbow-filled 180-seconds-of-celebration was immediately pulled from the air. There can be nobody in the world who by now does not know why. The earthquake and resulting tsunami left an unimaginably devastating toll: 15,057 people dead, 5,282 injured, 9,121 missing, and its force was enough to move not only the island of Honshu 2.4 metres, but the axis of the entire planet. With the eventual cost estimated to exceed $300 billion, it will be the most expensive natural disaster on record. But what price to put on happiness? After a month of near endless, unbearable news, not the least of which was the full-blown nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan Rail choose to quietly return its Southern Line commercial to air. Beyond all expectation, it became an immediate, nationwide phenomenon. Viewers all across Japan literally shed tears of joy at the sight of an island-long, 15,000-person human-wave, and the advertisement quickly achieved something priceless—it made a grieving nation happy. With possibly the catchiest, Björk-esque J-Pop soundtrack ever by Japanese-Swedish artist Maia Hirasawa, a rainbow-clothed cast of thousands is shown staging spontaneous, unscripted acts of joy as the rainbow-painted train passes with film-crew on board. Far from being inappropriate, the unabashedly happy commercial proved to be unerringly appropriate, uplifting spirits and warming hearts the length of Japan. Wrote one grateful viewer from Fukushima itself, “I heard this commercial has been pulled off air after the earthquake. They shouldn’t have! It’s good to see so many smiling people, and the united power of a great country like Japan working together for a common purpose. This is a huge encouragement to people working for the reconstruction. Thank you!”
That day, Thank you for your waving, Thank you for your smiles, Thank you for your cooperation. Kyushu-Shinkansen starts now. In Kyushu, we are full of new power. From Kyushu, we should deliver happiness to all over Japan. With you all, Kyushu-Shinkansen starts now. Narrator, Japan Rail Kyushu Skinkansen Commercial
Spoken at the end of the commercial by a narrator, seldom have truer words been uttered in an advertisement, for with its island-crossing human-wave of rainbow-coloured joy, Japan Rail indeed did deliver happiness all over Japan.

Related Elsewhere

Kyushu Shinkansen commercial lifts Japan spirits Kyushu Shinkansen by Japan Probe

Just a Bubble…

Morning light reflected in a soap bubble over the fjord by Odin Standal Just a bubble. Floating out of a Norwegian fjord with the sunlight reflecting in it. Nothing unusual there... if your definition of “usual” denotates the otherworldly as commonplace. One half expects to see trolls and fairies dancing in the background, or perhaps the reflection of God—probably with a rather self-satisfied smile on His face. The photographer, Odin Standal, clearly playing down what one suspects are strong powers of sorcery, matter-of-factly describes capturing an image that might just win the internets thus:
We went out early one morning and tried to make giant soap bubbles. The sun was rising above the mountain behind us and I managed to capture the sunrise in the reflection of a bubble floating out the fjord.
You can see more photos by Odin Standal on his Flickr page.

Challenging Impossibility

Challenging Impossibility: Sri Chinmoy lifts car

Article first published as Movie Review: Challenging Impossibility on Blogcritics.

Sri Chinmoy's weightlifting defies belief. People just can not lift the weights that he did, let alone people past the age of retirement. Yet in a two-decade long weightlifting career which only lifted off at age 54, raise the impossible to comprehend Sri Chinmoy did, and furthermore, he said that we can do so too. This is the uplifting message of Challenging Impossibility, a documentary which premiered at the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. Spiritual master turned strongman Sri Chinmoy, who passed away in 2007, is shown lifting not just weights but aircraft, elephants, cars and a who’s who of 20th Century luminaries including Nelson Mandela and Sting. By doing so, the Indian-born poet born again as powerlifter challenged impossibility itself. When Sri Chinmoy lifts weights, “It’s like gravity stops” says former Olympic sprinter Carl Lewis, a personal friend of the weightlifting guru. And gravity indeed is denied when Sri Chinmoy lifts a 2000-pound car on film. How can such feats of strength be possible? The answer is “all in the mind”, according to five-time Canada’s Strongest Man and documentary cast-member Hugo Girard, who credits Sri Chinmoy with helping him to realise that powerlifting is first and foremost internal. “You get to the place where it doesn’t matter how much something weighs, it’s going to move. If you think how much it weighs, you’re going to fail.” All in the mind, and in the heart and soul as well, for as Sri Chinmoy explained, the capacity he drew upon to literally raise the impossible is deep within us all, able to be accessed through the powers of concentration and meditation. “Many, many things I have done which my physical mind cannot believe” he explained. “But then again, when I concentrate, I am not afraid of it. When I am one with it, I act like a hero.” “It's been very motivational for me,” three-time Mr Olympia Frank Zane commented on the documentary, himself a pro body-builder who has merged meditation with weight-training since the age of 14. “You know, there are times in your training when you don't feel like doing it, then you just look at what he's doing and you're in again.” Challenging Impossibility Co-director Sanjay Rawal, a student of the weightlifting meditation teacher for 16 years, said his ultimate wish in making the film was to share Sri Chinmoy’s personal example of challenging the impossible. “The one thing that I learned from him is to never give up. There's no such thing as an impossible dream.”

Challenging Impossibility Trailer

More on Challenging Impossibility

Happiness Machine

Applause and awe-struck, gob-smacked smiles go to Barcelona based motion-graphics and visual effects studio Physalia, who created quite possibly the happiest entry in this year’s “Happy”-themed F5 Re:Play Film FestivalInductance. One giant magnet and hundreds of colourful capacitor-filled plastic balls later, and you can't help but smile. But is this superb creation from what is first and foremost a special effects studio—specialists in making the imaginary fly through the air—actually real? It's no secret that happiness in life can be elusive, but it's even harder to find through reasoning...

A Daughter’s Last Goodbye

Wakana Kumagai, 6, waits for her mother Yoshiko after visiting the grave of her father, who was killed by the March 11 tsunami In the face of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, words fail me. And fail me they should, for it is good to be speechless at the indescribable and the inconsolable, to be silent in the face of the inconceivable made real. Any words one could offer would mean little, be sounds empty and hollow unless matched by heart, matched or even better multiplied by feelings of sincerity and sympathy. Multiplied by a wave of empathy. Reuters’ Toru Hanai expresses my response to the tsunami perfectly. His short, unbearably poignant photo essay is an affecting visit to the aching heart of grieving Japan.
Six-year-old Wakana Kumagai began to run from the car when she arrived at a temporary mass grave site in Higashi-Matsushima, Miyagi prefecture. She had come to meet her father. On that day Wakana attended an entrance ceremony for her elementary school. Afterward she went with her mother and older brother to the grave site. She showed off her dress and bright red school satchel as she described the entrance ceremony to her father. But her father, Kazuyuki, slept in the soil.
Continue reading: A daughter’s last goodbye by Toru Hanai.