Donald Richie has been living in Japan for half a century. The American writer, translator and film scholar has spent most of that time explaining Japan to the English-speaking world. But lately he’s found himself, somewhat disconcertingly, in an entirely new role€as an interpreter of Japan to the Japanese. The Tokyo university students who attend his lectures on the great postwar filmmaker Yasujiro Ozuno longer understand the world portrayed in the 1953 classic “Tokyo Story.” They don’t know anything about the family system because the family system doesn’t exist anymore,” says Richie. “So I have to reconstruct it for them.” They can still understand the traditional, intricately polite version of Japanese used in the movies, but that language sounds alien, as if it comes from a “vanished” world, he says. Vanished. That word crops up often in Japan these days. Before my family and I arrived here in September 2004, we weren’t really sure what to expect. My head was filled with lingering images from the Japan-bashing 1980s, and Japan was still widely cast in the West as unique and alien. I wondered whether we could expect a land clinging to its differences: its lifetime employment, its company […]

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