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The Asian ApertureThe Inland Sea
POSTED BY JASON FETTERS, January 18, 2011    Share

One of my favorite travel books is Donald Richie's The Inland Sea, which I have read multiple times and each time I have learned something new. There is something about the book's timelessness, despite being written in the 70's. Richie went on a quest to find the real Japanese. Not the busy salaryman wearing the standard boring black suit, nor the geisha walking from a teahouse to entertain, and definitely not anyone wearing a ninja or samurai costume. So who did Richie find? He found the Japanese living near the sea, along the coastal beaches bringing in fish, the ones who were in harmony with nature. The book has multiple threads such as the journey to the inland sea, starting from Awaji Island and to Shikoku and several islands in between and finally ending at Hiroshima. Still another thread is the break up of Richie's marriage. A third thread exists and concerns Richie's inner struggle to understand himself. All three are skillfully woven together to create an enjoyable read.

I was surprised a few years back to find The Inland Sea on DVD. I remember wondering how on Earth the DVD could contain the depth of the novel? It didn't. However, the DVD did bring a visual interpretation that the book could not. Taking together both parts present a whole and enhance the experience. If I had to choose between the book and the movie, I would choose the book. Some people like details, which the book provides. Others enjoy going out to dinner and looking at the pictures in the menu while ignoring the descriptions. I prefer to read. However the DVD does something that I haven't come across in years of movie watching, it presents the journey as if you are with Donald Richie going on the trip together. The DVD is really a travelmentary.
The Inland Sea starts out at Tokyo Station on the platform waiting for the train. Donald Richie narrates the entire film as the camera moves to being on the train and traveling away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo to the quiet quaint sea town that many stressed out souls would welcome.
Some key visuals discussed in the book and even some real people not in the book are presented as realistically as possible. There is the young man who grew up on an island and has no desire to escape to see the capitol. He is content to ride around in his boat and check on his seaweed farm. He only wants to farm and to live and die on the only island he has ever known. This man does not have the stress of the 9 to 5 working world. He is at peace with nature and therefore happy.
Another interesting person is the old lady who delivers newspapers to stores and houses. Her husband left her during World War II, now years later, she is still waiting for his return. It is remarkable that she hasn't given up hope. She expects him to return any day now. For the present she will continue to work at the same job she had when he left.
Richie also talks about shrines in Japan, and he even guides you along as the camera moves up several steep steps leading up to the shrine. Having lived in Osaka for many years, I can honestly say that the shrine visit in The Inland Sea is authentic.
A lot of Richie's narration has to do with his state of mind while on the actual journey in the 70's. The movie was made in the 90's and Richie is able to convey just what he was feeling back then. A key point that he makes is that he took a boat that he didn't want to take and was therefore unhappy. He says, I decided to be unhappy and naturally I was. You can change your mood just by changing your mind. Emotions are just ideas. That is a good point for all those people I see wondering around unhappy and never deciding to change their mood. It really is that simple. Such useful thinking often happens in a relaxed state of mind while on a good recharging vacation.
The trip ends in Hiroshima and at the end of the movie, you see Donald Richie walking, wearing a black jacket. The movie ends inside Richie's apartment with him writing in his notebook, just like the notebook that he wrote on back during his trip.
This is a great DVD to see a quiet and peaceful side of coastal Japan without all the noise of Tokyo. If you can't afford a trip to see the inland sea, you can always watch this DVD and get a similar effect. Nothing could take the place of an actual trip but this is really close to getting you there.
5 Stars out of 5 Highly Recommended.

"The Asian Aperture" is ©2011 by Jason Fetters. All contents of Nolan's Pop Culture Review are ©2011 by Nolan B. Canova.

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