Archive for Rashomon

a journal of the plague year [confined reviews]

Posted in Books, pictures, Travel, Wines with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 23, 2020 by xi'an

Watched TV series His Dark Materials produced for the BBC, which is much much better than the earlier film, as the actors are all fabulous—first and foremost Lyra, but also Ma Costa, the Gyptian Muter Courage—, the gypsy community is given a much stronger role, the characters are deep and complex, as eg Mrs and Mr Coulter, both ready to sacrifice kids for the greater “good” without appearing as absolute monsters! The special effects are a wee bit deficient as often with BBC productions but not enough to make a case. Although I sort of cringed each time a bear moved!

Read The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara trilogy by Terry Brooks, which I noticed standing on my son’s bookshelves. The original Shannara Trilogy was one of the very first fantasy books I read in English in my undergrad years (after Lord of the Rings of course and possibly The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant), which did not leave me with an everlasting feeling of superlative literature, to say the least. This avatar of the original Sword of Shannara trilogy did nothing to improve my feelings as the plot is lazy at best, with super-powered villains suddenly acting, last second deus ex machina rescues, endless internal debates, heavy hints at treacheries and double-treacheries, and, worst of all!, intrusion of 20th century technology, e.g., computers, AIs and robots, that the far future characters make sense of. Only suitable for a time of lockdown and even then… I should have left it on the bookshelf! Incidentally, one fight scene against a cyborg was highly reminiscent of the black knight scene in Holy Grail!

Watched by chance Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs. For the first time. And was totally un-impressed. Highly pretentious construction falling flat from being a modern reconstruction of antique dramas, endless dialogues (which could have been cut by half if removing all the occurrences of fucking from them), boring and threadbare story, and artificial characters that essentially make no sense. I cannot fathom why this film is so highly ranked..! (And even less to witness it being compared with Rashomon!)

Read [part] of Jin Yong’s Legends of the Condor Heroes (射鵰英雄傳) but, lockdown or not, I simply could not finish it. Despite its fantasy approach to Chinese martial arts, which I usually enjoy (at least in planes!), and some proximity with the Judge Dee stories by van Gulik, the story felt very contrived and somewhat out of reach, plus [not yet] Genghis Khan being depicted in a fairly positive way [at least in the part I read]. Too irrealist for my reading buds, I presume…

Cooked plenty of new dishes, thanks to the delivery of weekly farmer boxes, from radish stems & buckwheat pancakes to celery roots purées, to fregola sarda (leftovers from ISBA 2016!) con acciughe, to chard gratins, to pea pod and cauliflower core soups, to flaxseed bread and buckwheat naans (as we ran out of wheat flour). We also managed to use and survive most of the out-of-date cans and bags that had stood forgotten in the back of our cupboard… Not visiting a supermarket for two months was actually most pleasant, living very nicely from the above mentioned farmer boxes and the occasional delivery from a cheesemonger, and supplementing weekly visits to the baker with attempts at home made bread.

Read Matha Well’s Murderbot diaries, my first read on a Kindle!, for free courtesy of Tor. Starting with All Systems Red, which won the 2017 Nebula Award for Best Novella, the 2018 Hugo Award for Best Novella, the 2018 Locus Award, and the American Library Association‘s Alex Award. Very good if somewhat classical (Blade Runner anyone?!) trope of the rogue robot turned autonomous and human, so human! This is a sequence of novellas which means a fast-paced story and an efficient style. (Including a less exciting third novella, due to a lazy scenario.) More mind-candy à la John Scalzi than profound literature but quite enjoyable for a quick read during lunch or tea break! But which induced me to buy the first and incoming novel in the series,  Network Effect. (To be commented in a subsequent entry…)

Leading to (re)read the Interdependency trilogy by John Scalzi, the last volume in the series being just out. Very lazy buildup, in the traditional spirit of a few people driving the future of the entire Universe, with unlimited resources and unrestricted hacking abilities, but with funny dialogues, as usual with Scalzi. In this binge (re)read, I actually realised the frustrating intricacies of Kindle ordering as (i) I could not use my account and hence none of my associate gains (ii) I could not merge several accounts and (iii) prices varied a lot between using directly the Kindle and ordering from…

And even growing some salads and radishes over the two months and eating them before the end of the lockdown, as the weather in Paris was quite mild most of the time. Although it meant a daily-basis fight with slugs. The arugula did not resist that well, though…

Reading Tade Thompson’s Rosewater for more than a month, having trouble keeping my concentration as the story goes in loops and not a particularly well settled plot. With a central idea of an alien race taking over humanity a few cells at a time. Which reminded me of Greg Bear’s Blood Music I read during the first year of my PhD. The book has some appeal, from being located in Nigeria 30 years from now to America having completely vanished from the map after Trump pulled the ultimate drawbridge. It won the 2019 Arthur Clarke Award after all! But I found it too hard to complete to even consider embarking upon the next two volumes on the trilogy…

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.

I am going to take the train next week! [prediction]

Posted in pictures, Statistics, Travel, University life with tags , , , , , on December 6, 2015 by xi'an

“…n’importe quelle personne appréciant le film Rashomon d’Akira Kurosawa, allant au travail en vélo et aimant le couscous va prendre le train la semaine prochaine”

In the Sciences & Médecine booklet of Le Monde this week, I found an interview of Michael Jordan on big data, under the title [I translated as] “We can always twist data the way we want”. (En français, bien sûr!) The content of the interview is great, not only because it comes after a series of poor quality articles on the “big data” revolution, but also because it sets statistics and induction at the centre of the analysis. I also liked the reference to Voltaire and transversal competences as fundamental. (Presumably this interview was done when Michael took part in a “big data” conference last month.) But what I appreciated most is the above quote that a person who likes Rashômon, bikes to work, and appreciates couscous should take a train next week! Michael intended it as a joke on the excesses of prediction, but as it happens, every single entry applies to me. Including taking a train to London at the end of next week…!

True Detective [review]

Posted in Books, pictures with tags , , , , , , , , on April 4, 2015 by xi'an

Even though I wrote before that I do not watch TV series, I made a second exception this year with True Detective. This series was recommended to me by Judith and this was truly a good recommendation!

Contrary to my old-fashioned idea of TV series, where the same group of caricaturesque characters repeatedly meet new settings that are solved within the 50 mn each show lasts, the whole season of True Detective is a single story, much more like a very long movie with a unified plot that smoothly unfolds and gets mostly solved in the last episode. It obviously brings more strength and depth in the characters, the two investigators Rust and Marty, with the side drawback that most of the other characters, except maybe Marty’s wife, get little space.  The opposition between those two investigators is central to the coherence of the story, with Rust being the most intriguing one, very intellectual, almost otherworldly, with a nihilistic discourse, and a self-destructive bent, while Marty sounds more down-to-earth, although he also caters to his own self-destructive demons… Both actors are very impressive in giving a life and an history to their characters. The story takes place in Louisiana, with great landscapes and oppressive swamps where everything seems doomed to vanish, eventually, making detective work almost useless. And where clamminess applies to moral values as much as to the weather. The core of the plot is the search for a serial killer, whose murders of women are incorporated within a pagan cult. Although this sounds rather standard for a US murder story (!), and while there are unnecessary sub-plots and unconvincing developments, the overall storyboard is quite coherent, with a literary feel, even though its writer,  Nic Pizzolatto, never completed the corresponding novel and the unfolding of the plot is anything but conventional, with well-done flashbacks and multi-layered takes on the same events. (With none of the subtlety of Rashômon, where one ends up mistrusting every POV.)  Most of the series takes place in current time, when the two former detectives are interrogated by detectives reopening an unsolved murder case. The transformation of Rust over 15 years is an impressive piece of acting, worth by itself watching the show! The final episode, while impressive from an aesthetic perspective as a descent into darkness, is somewhat disappointing at the story level for not exploring the killer’s perspective much further and for resorting to a fairly conventional (in the Psycho sense!) fighting scene.

After the quake

Posted in Books, Running with tags , , , , , on April 21, 2011 by xi'an

Another book I read during my trip to Bristol is Murakami’s After the Quake. I was pointed out to it thanks to a column in Le Monde that appeared after last month earthquake. After the Quake takes place after the 1995 Kôbe’s earthquake.  It is a collection of independent short stories. The final short story, Honey Pie, was first published in The New Yorker and is uniquely and outwordly beautiful. If very remotely connected to the eathquake. Landscape with Flatiron is another beautiful and subtle story about the meaning of life and the mesmerizing quality of beach bonfires. Three other short stories contain some supernatural elements, a bit in the spirit of  the fantastic Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. And maybe harder to apprehend, even though Thailand is very moving too. This was my first collection of short stories by Murakami, even though I had planned to read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running for quite a while…. (Ironically, Murakami got the Akutagawa prize in 1976, named after the author of Rashômon, and mentions it as well for a self-portrait writer in Honey Pie.)