The Inland Sea is a 1991 documentary-style film by Lucille Carra and an adaptation of Donald Richie's 1971 travelogue of the same name. Only fifty-six minutes long, it is premised on Richie's notion that, “One is meant to wander, turning at random along these straight and open corridors filled with the rustling of the forest, the whispering of the sea.” We're thus taken on a journey, mirroring Richie's travels, rich observations, and roaming contemplation, a version that is faithful while also on its own narrative and visual quest—"a bit of shooting around” as Richie noted. We can expect this, of course, as Richie's book was published twenty years prior, in 1971, pieced together from journal entries penned in the years before that, on his various trips to the sea and its countless islands. Much of what he had experienced there and seen, and those he encountered, would've been difficult to find; Richie back then was well aware things were changing rapidly and that much would soon be gone or lost, or transformed by a modern Japan and world.
What I particularly like is the film's dream-like atmosphere and tone. Several of the book's most memorable parts are narrated by Richie, infusing a loosely-connected, poetic context into the imagery and its textures. Richie's gentle, nasal voice, often plaintive as he reads, lends to the film's romantically languid essence and the feeling that everything within is flowing and passing, the water, sky, landscapes, people, animals, architecture and culture. The past into the present into the inevitable but unknown future—a future which, Richie might have lamented, would be wholly unsympathetic to what once was. It is a film one can be absorbed into—its steady, mild current—to drift through a time decades ago, harkening back to a time decades before that, when Richie wandered on a journey of self-discovery.