Established by a generous endowment gift from Tsuneko and Shoji Sadao, East-West Dialogues is an annual lecture series that brings distinguished thought leaders together in conversation to encourage critical thinking and promote cross-cultural dialogue, exchange, and understanding.

This year’s event featured renowned Japanese architect Fumihiko Maki (ACC 1976) and American film producer, writer, and Japan Society of Boston President Emeritus Peter Grilli. Both shared their perspectives on international cultural exchange, based on each of their 50 plus years of living, working, and bridging Japan and the U.S.

Mr. Grilli discusses his 1991 documentary on Toru Takemitsu (ACC 1968)

Mr. Grilli began the discussion with an overview of his documentaries on Japan, spanning from 1978 to 2016. Each film, he described, was a turning point in his career and life, opening doors to a whole new area of Japanese culture. One of Mr. Grilli’s highlighted films traced the life of Japanese composer and early ACC grantee (1968) Toru Takemitsu. While Mr. Takemitsu’s early works were influenced by Western music, it was through his experiences in the U.S that he began to value Japanese composition and incorporate traditional instruments, like the shakuhachi and biwa. Mr. Grilli’s most recent film, Paper Lanterns, especially touched the audience, detailing the work of historian Shigeaki Mori, who researched and reconnected families with the long-lost stories of American prisoners-of-war who died in Hiroshima.

Spending much of their lives traveling between the U.S. and Japan, Mr. Grilli and Mr. Maki’s work and perspective are also, in part, the product of cultural exchange. While Mr. Grilli spent much of his childhood years (1947-1959) in Tokyo, Mr. Maki first traveled to the U.S. as a young professor in 1956 to teach at Washington University. “Because many came to study under the G.I. Bill,” he said, “some of my students were older than me…some had even come to Japan.” Even with the war still weighing heavy in the conscience of both countries, Mr. Maki maintained, “When I met people, we were just teacher and student, it had nothing to do with age or race. People were generous and kind, so I had many lifelong friends during my stay…I will never forget this generosity and kindness in my life.”

Mr. Maki describes his time as a young professor at Washington University

Mr. Maki’s subsequent architectural creations have continued this sense of generosity forward. In his work, he says, “I think of the Japanese word, mushou no ai, for unconditional love. As an architect, I always receive the conditional love of clients, but we try to make it [the space] as unconditional as possible. This is the obligation of filmmakers, artists, and anybody.” We see this element of unconditional love in Mr. Maki’s consideration of community in his work—from creating public spaces for neighbors to sit and chat in university complexes to maximizing light for students at MIT’s MediaLab. The spaces Mr. Maki creates and the stories Mr. Grilli tells are inextricably entwined in what they both refer to as “the DNA of cities”—the idea that every city has its own distinct identity. Their conversation, however, emphasized both the unique nature of place and cultural identity, but also its fluidity as communities become more mobile and global.

Fumihiko Maki and Peter Grilli with ACC staff and Trustees

ACC Executive Director, Miho Walsh, framed the discussion in the context of ACC’s work: “At ACC, we believe that artists and scholars are uniquely positioned to connect and share. This kind of exchange enables continued dialogues, creates empathy, and cultivates respect, which is so essential to maintaining a harmonious and peaceful world.”

This dialogue, truly, was one based in mutual respect and admiration of two countries, as well as two individuals. Referring to Mr. Maki’s design for the World Trade Center’s Tower 4, a gentle glass giant reflecting and, sometimes, vanishing in its surroundings, Mr. Grilli remarked, “I’d like the audience to think about the modesty of the architect and courage of architect who makes his building disappear into nature. I don’t know any other architect that combines such modesty, but also real, real greatness.”

To view East-West Dialogue with Peter Grilli and Fumihiko Maki, please click here.


Below: Fumihiko Maki and Peter Grilli in conversation at ACC's East-West Dialogues