TOKYO — Internationally known writer, critic and filmmaker Donald Richie — a Lima native and longtime resident of Japan — died Tuesday. He was 88.
Richie wrote dozens of books about Japanese film and culture, as well as travelogues and memoirs, spanning over seven decades.
His best known works include “The Japanese Film, Art and Industry," written in 1959 with critic Joseph L. Anderson, and “The Inland Sea," a travel memoir published in 1971.
“He’s not well known to the general public, but in the film community, he’s like a towering giant. Everyone looks to him to whatever they know about Japanese film today,” said Peter Goodman, Richie’s U.S. publisher for more than 20 years, based in Berkeley, Calif.
Richie was an expatriate living in Japan for more than 60 years. He first visited Japan in 1947 as a typist with the American occupation force after serving in World War II. He began writing for the Stars and Stripes and later The Japan Times. Richie became enamored with the culture, particularly Japanese cinema.
According to a 2001 article in The Lima News, one of the first differences Richie noticed in Japanese cinema, unlike in America, was “the people on the screen and the people in the theater were so much the same.”
Richie was different, as an outsider and foreigner, but he found comfort in that role.
“I am at home in Japan precisely because I’m an alien body,” Richie once wrote. “I am no longer a member over there and cannot become a member over here — this defines my perfectly satisfactory position.”
Richie grew up on Jameson Avenue and was a Lima Central High School and Columbia University graduate.
He had his sense of adventure from a young age. The day after his high school graduation, Richie hitchhiked across the country, hoping to get to El Paso, Texas, but ended up in New Orleans.
“I was never very strong on geography,” he told The Lima News in 2001.
Robert Ensign, who met Richie through friends five years ago, bonded with Richie about their love of Japanese culture and their Lima roots. Ensign travels to Japan twice a year to relish the culture and pursue martial arts. He usually met Richie at his Tokyo apartment or nearby for tea or coffee during his visits. Sometimes, they’d look at pictures of Lima and how the town has changed over the years.
“He felt almost like a father to me,” said Ensign, who now lives in Dayton. “In the short time that we met, an older guy, about the same age as my father who passed away five years ago, and had all these pictures of Lima. Just, wow, here I am sitting in Tokyo, I’m with this guy about my dad’s age, who grew up in Lima, and he’s showing me pictures Faurot Park, and I showed him a picture of the Kewpee. And he said, ‘Oh yeah, I used to eat there.’”
Ensign last visited Richie in October.
“I asked him, 'If somebody from Lima asks me about you, what do you want them to know?'” Ensign said. “And he said, ‘Tell them I’m happy.’”
Even with Lima far behind him physically, Richie used Ohio as a starting place in several of his books.
He once reflected, “I didn’t so much want to run away from as I wanted to run toward.”