Archive for Tokyo

Infomocracy [book review]

Posted in Books, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , on June 17, 2017 by xi'an

Infomocracy is a novel by Malka Older set in a near future where most of the Earth is operating under a common elective system where each geographical unit of 100,000 people elect a local representative that runs this unit according to the party’s program and contributes to elect a Worldwide government, except for some non-democratic islets like Saudi Arabia. The whole novel revolves around the incoming election, with different parties trying to influence the outcome in their favour, some to the point of instating a dictature. Which does not sound that different from present times!, with the sligth difference that the whole process is controlled by Information, a sort of World Wide Web that seems to operate neutrally above states and parties, although the book does not elaborate on how this could be possible. The story is told through four main (and somewhat charicaturesque) characters, working for or against the elections and crossing paths along the novel. Certainly worth reading if not outstanding. (And definitely not “one of the greatest literary debuts in recent history”!)

The book is more interesting as a dystopia on electoral systems and the way the information revolution can produce a step back in democracy, with the systematisation of fake news and voters’ manipulation, where the marketing research group YouGov has become a party, than as a science-fiction (or politics-fiction) book. Indeed, it tries too hard to replicate The cyberpunk reference, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, with the same construct of interlacing threads, the same fascination for Japan, airports, luxury hotels, if not for brands, and a similar ninja-geek pair of characters. And with very little invention about the technology of the 21st Century.  (And a missed opportunity to exploit artificial intelligence themes and the prediction of outcomes when Information builds a fake vote database but does not seem to mind about Benford’s Law.) The acknowledgement section somewhat explains this imbalance, in that the author worked many years in humanitarian organisations and is currently completing a thesis at Science Po’ (Paris).

sweet red bean paste [あん]

Posted in Books, Kids, pictures, Travel with tags , , , , , , , on February 13, 2016 by xi'an

I am just back from watching this Japanese movie by Naomi Kawase that came out last year and won Un certain regard award at the Cannes festival. It is indeed a movie with a most unusual “regard” and as such did not convince many critics. For instance, one Guardian critic summed up his view with the qualification of a “preposterous and overly sentimental opener to this year’s Un Certain Regard serves up major disappointment”. (As a contrapunto the finereview in Les Cahiers du Cinéma catches the very motives I saw in the movie.) And of course one can watch the movie as a grossly stereotypical and unreservedly sentimental lemon if one clings to realism. For me, who first and mistakenly went to see it as an ode to Japanese food (in the same vein as Tampopo!), it unrolled as a wonderful tale that got deeper and deeper consistence, just like the red bean jam thickening over the fire. There is clearly nothing realistic in the three characters and in the way they behave, from the unnaturally cheerful and wise old woman Tokue to the overly mature high-school student looking after the introspective cook. That no-one seemed aware of a sanatorium of lepers at the centre of town and that the customers move from ecstatic about the taste of the bean jam made by Tokue to scared by her (former) leprosy and that the awful owner of the shop where Sentaro cooks can be so obviously pressuring him, all this does not work for a real story, but it fits perfectly the philosophical tale that An is and the reflection it raises. While I am always bemused by the depth and wholeness in the preparation of the Japanese food, the creation of a brilliant red bean jam is itself tangential to the tale (and I do not feel like seeking dorayaki when exiting the cinema), which is more about discovering one’s inner core and seeking harmony through one’s realisations. (I know this definitely sounds like cheap philosophy, but I still feel somewhat and temporarily enlightened from following the revolutions of those three characters towards higher spheres in the past two hours!)

the devotion of suspect X

Posted in Books with tags , , , , , on April 13, 2013 by xi'an

“Ah, an adherent of Erdös, I see”

I read this book (I bought along with the House of Silk in Oxford) over a wee more than a day: it reads fast and it reads well! Really really well. The devotion of suspect X is a Japanese detective story where the reader knows the true murder story from the start and waits for the police to uncover the culprits, except there is a twist in the story. And another twist in the twist. And yet another one…

“That guy might be a genius mathematician, but he’s certainly a novice murderer.”
“They are the same thing,” Yokawa stated simply. “Murder probably comes even easier to him.”

The main characters are three graduates from the Imperial University in Tokyo: one in sociology (who acknowledged only visiting the library twice), one in physics who is still working as a researcher there and one in mathematics, who left the academic system to teach bored high school students—while still working on his free time on the Riemann conjecture. The X in the title is actually related with the mathematician, who handle the murder as a maths equation and the murderer as an unknown X.

“For instance, I give them a question that looks like a geometry problem, but is in fact an algebra problem.”

The book starts somehow sedately but, as the personalities of the mathematician and the physician unfold, it gets more and more gripping, to the point I could not let go (and was glad of my battery giving up during the flight to Montpellier so that I could keep reading!). I also appreciated very much the depiction of the Japanese society in the novel and found myself visualising the characters in some parts of Kyoto I visited last year (although the story takes place in Tokyo). The harsh condition of single women in this society is also well-exposed and central to the story.

“He had calculated that it would take him roughly another twenty years to complete his work on this particular theory. Possibly even longer. It was the kind of insurmountable problem worthy of an entire lifetime’s devotion. And of all the mathematicians in the world, he was in the best position to crack it.”

There are a few imperfections, of course, like the final scene which is both “necessary” and clumsy. Or the uncovering of the (brilliant) last twist by the physicist. But the plot holds solidly as a whole and makes me want tore-read the book again, to reanalyse every situation with the knowledge of the “full” truth. (I also disliked the connection with Stieg Larsson made on the front cover:  it differs very very much from Millenium in that the central female character Yasuko remains a victim throughout the book without ever taking over. There is no political perspective to be found in The devotion of suspect X.) The book was adopted into a movie, I wonder how well it translates…