Archive for Japan

Rashomon, plus 47 ronins, plus…

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 26, 2020 by xi'an

Another chance encounter (on Amazon) led me to read a graphical novel entitled Rashōmon, by Victor Santos. Which uses the same short stories from Ryūnosuke Akutagawa as Akira Kurosawa in his superlative film, if not with the same intensity. (The very first sentences are inspired from the first pages of the book, though.) And in a second part builds upon the tale of the 47 rônins which I read last summer in Koyasan. Plus a possible appearance of Miyamato Mushashi, the great 17th Century swordsman (depicted in two wonderful novels by Eiji Yoshikawa). While this is historically impossible, since Rashōmon takes place in the 12th Century and the 47 rônins acted in 1702, the theme cementing the story is the presence of a detective named Heigo Kobayashi, who “solves” both crimes but is nonetheless outsmarted by the novel “femme fatale”… Without a clear explanation as to how she did it.

While I found the rendering rather entertaining, with an original if convoluted drawing style, I was rather disappointed at the simplistic and Westernised adaptation of the subtle stories into a detective story. Calling upon (anachronic) ninjas as if the historical setting per se was not exotic enough. And the oddly modified role of the main female character into an Hammet-like heroin kills the ambivalence that is central to both Akutagawa’s and Kurosawa’s versions.

夢幻花 [Dream flower]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2020 by xi'an

Another Japanese mystery novel by Higashino Keigo, which I read in French under the title La fleur de l´illusion [on a sunny Sunday afternoon, under my fig tree] and enjoyed both for its original, convoluted (and mostly convincing) plot and for the well-rendered interaction between the young protagonists. And also for having a few connections with my recent trip, from one protagonist studying nuclear physics at the University of Osaka to a visit to the back country of Katsuura. (The author himself graduated from Osaka Prefecture University with a Bachelor of Engineering degree.) Spoiler warning: the only annoying part of the plot was the resolution of the mystery via a secret society run by a few families of civil servants, which as always sounds to me like a rather cheap way out. But not enough to ruin the entire novel.

 

les sentiers des astres [book review]

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 18, 2019 by xi'an

It is quite rare that I read heroic fantasy or science fiction in French, presumably because I do not spend enough time in Parisian bookstores… Thanks to a visit to Librairie Compagnie, rue des Écoles, last July, storing enough travel books for Japan, (incidentally) all of which made it back home by post today!, I came across the books of Stefan Platteau as a suggestion from a bookseller there as a mix of Robin Hobb and Tad Williams, with connections to Celtic, Scandinavian, and Hindu myths. And styles. I actually see some inspiration from Hobb’s Chaman soldier, in the role of supernatural forces, less of Williams, as the series is shying away from heroic fantasy and military actions, even though a war is going on, but mostly fought by irregulars and partisans. The style is quite original, way better than Hobb’s Rain wilds chronicles, with a rich prose and tales within tales said (sang?) by several characters. And the story definitely compelling if sometimes slow—a consequence of the subplots being exposed as fireplace stories, with a larger role of god-like entities that roam this universe,  but in a pleasant and balanced way. The characters are all ambiguous enough to preserve a degree of surprise and of unexplained as the story unravels. It is unfortunate the books have not been translated into other languages, as these trails of the stars are remarkable enough to recommend! In particular, while there is a very small number of women involved in the stories, the Tale of the Courtesan is most central to both second and third volumes, with a very strong passage on her pregnancy in the most dire circumstances. A non-spoiler warning is that the end of the book is very abrupt and unconclusive, making it sound as if a new volume is in the making, not that I could find any trace of an hint about a sequel. Not that it proves detrimental to the pleasure of reading this unusual series.

zombie ants

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 26, 2019 by xi'an

Ryū [jatp]

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , on October 20, 2019 by xi'an

Japanese mushrooms [jatp]

Posted in Mountains, pictures, Running, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on October 12, 2019 by xi'an

Nature snippets

Posted in Statistics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 1, 2019 by xi'an

In the August 1 issue of Nature I took with me to Japan, there were many entries of interest. The first pages included a tribune (“personal take on events”) by a professor of oceanography calling for a stop to the construction of the TMT telescope on the Mauna Kea mountain. While I am totally ignorant of the conditions of this construction and in particular of the possible ecological effects on a fragile altitude environment, the tribune is fairly confusing invoking mostly communitarian and religious, rather than scientific ones. And referring to Western science and Protestant missionaries as misrepresenting a principle of caution. While not seeing the contradiction in suggesting the move of the observatory to the Canary Islands, which were (also) invaded by Spanish settlers in the 13th century.

Among other news, Indonesia following regional tendencies to nationalise research by forcing foreign researchers to have their data vetted by the national research agency and to include Indonesian nationals in their projects. And, although this now sounds stale news, the worry about the buffoonesque Prime Minister of the UK. And of the eugenic tendencies of his cunning advisor… A longer article by Patrick Riley from Google on three problems with machine learning, from splitting the data inappropriately (biases in the data collection) to hidden variables (unsuspected confounders) to mistaking the objective (impact of the loss function used to learn the predictive function). (Were these warnings heeded in the following paper claiming that deep learning was better at predicting kidney failures?)  Another paper of personal interest was reporting a successful experiment in Guangzhou, China, infecting tiger mosquitoes with a bacteria to make the wild population sterile. While tiger mosquitoes have reached the Greater Paris area,  and are thus becoming a nuisance, releasing 5 million more mosquitoes per week in the wild may not sound like the desired solution but since the additional mosquitoes are overwhelmingly male, we would not feel the sting of this measure! The issue also contained a review paper on memory editing for clinical treatment of psychopathology, which is part of the 150 years of Nature anniversary collection, but that I did not read (or else I forgot!)