Ex-Libris: The New York Public Library

Ex-libris-dvd“Frederick Wiseman’s film, Ex Libris – The New York Public Library, goes behind the scenes of one of the greatest knowledge institutions in the world and reveals it as a place of welcome, cultural exchange and learning. With 92 branches throughout Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island, the library is a resource for all the inhabitants of this multifaceted and cosmopolitan city, and beyond. The New York Public Library exemplifies the deeply rooted American belief in the individual’s right to know and be informed. It is one of the most democratic institutions in America – everyone is welcome. The Library strives to inspire learning, advance knowledge and strengthen communities.”

Earlier this week I stumble upon this enormous documentary on PBS. If you are into books and libraries, you’ll just love this movie that gives us an extensive tour of the New York Library and demonstrates how dedicated and welcoming the staff of its 92 branches are, what are the challenges they face in order to keep up with the demands and needs of their patrons, and particularly how important libraries can be to foster the diffusion of culture & knowledge as well as artistic creativity. It’s certainly one of the best examples of what an ideal library should be (as I recently discussed).

It is amazing how our local libraries look insignificant and puny in comparison of the behemoth collection and the huge diversity of services offered by the New York Public Library… With 53 millions documents, it is the second largest public library in the U.S. (third largest in the world after the British Library and the Library of Congress). Surprisingly, despite its name, it is a private, non-profit library, but it’s using public/private partnership (and funding) to work in collaboration with local governments (city, state, federal) in providing a large array of services… It is quite interesting (and serendipitous) that, with our imminent provincial elections, a librarian and teacher at the U de M Library Science School has been very recently questioning the commitment of the government in regards of libraries. Will the government create a strategic plan for the development of libraries (like the PLA recently did) ? It is direly needed at a time when the usefulness of libraries (and even our society’s fundamental concepts of knowledge and truth) are being challenged  (NYT, The Guardian) !

Of course, for such an enormous documentary, the reception has been rather mixed (with a critical response at 97%, but with only a 61% audience score, on Rotten Tomatoes) with reviews going from bad (Globe & Mail), to good (Variety) to excellent (The Guardian).

For me it was very interesting to watch and compare (seeing the similarities and differences) our library work here, in relatively small municipal library branches, to what’s done in NYC. However, even with the mastery of legendary documentarist Frederick Wiseman, I do think that 3h17 is really too long for any documentary to keep the attention of the viewers (at least in one sitting)! Many sequences are unnecessarily long. Also someone can get easily annoyed by Wiseman’s “no-comment” documentary style where he just show the scene as it happens without much editing or information (like not telling us who is talking!). In the end, despite those faults, this documentary is definitely worth watching for anyone (with spare time) who’s interested in the realm of books and libraries.

Ex Libris – The New York Public Library : USA, 2017, 197 mins; Dir./Ed./Sound/Prod.: Frederick Wiseman; Phot.: John Davey; Exec. Prod.: Karen Konicek; Cast: Ta-Nehisi Coates, Elvis Costello, Richard Dawkins and the very dedicated staff of all NYL branches. The DVD will be available soon from the producing company, PBS or Amazon (UK / FR). It can also be streamed online (legally?)… stars-3-0

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Capsules

Un dimanche au musée

IMG_3412J’ai encore visité une exposition au Musée des beaux-Arts de Montréal in-extremis: en effet, l’exposition D’Afrique aux Amériques : Picasso en face-à-face, d’hier à aujourd’hui se terminait aujourd’hui. Comme toujours, cela en valait la peine (malgré la foule).

Je n’ai jamais beaucoup aimé Picasso (et l’art abstrait en général) mais, comme il se situe aux limites du figuratif et que j’ai toujours été fasciné par la vision du monde qu’il exprime dans son art, il m’intéresse tout de même. J’ai toujours interprété son oeuvre avec l’entendement que, la photographie ayant rendu le besoin de représenter la réalité caduque, les artistes modernes ont délaissé le figuratif pour l’impressionisme, d’abord, puis pour l’expressionnisme et même carrément l’abstrait (cubisme, surréalisme, etc.). On déforme la réalité pour exprimer et inspirer des sentiments. Picasso a commencé à peindre durant une période troublée du XXe siècle, alors ce n’est pas surprenant qu’il exprime des sentiments perturbés, dérangés ou dérangeants. Je me suis toujours demandé comment il pouvait réussir à déformer la réalité d’une telle façon ou s’il voyait vraiment le monde comme cela. Quoiqu’il en soit, j’ai toujours trouvé son art plutôt laid. Mais bon, comme je dis souvent à mon épouse, pas besoin d’aimer ça pour l’apprécier! Pour apprendre, il faut aller au-delà de ses goûts et de sa zone de confort.

Toutefois, ce n’est vraiment qu’en visitant cette exposition, qui met en parallèle des oeuvres de Picasso et de l’art Africain (dans ses très multiples déclinaisons), que j’ai finalement compris son inspiration. À cette époque-là, les artistes tribaux africains tentaient de représenter les esprits de la nature, le divin, la terreur de leur démons. Et c’est dans ces formes là que Picasso a trouvé sa muse.

Étrangement, l’art africain m’a aussi toujours fasciné. J’y trouve quelques chose de surréel, et, là où l’artiste tentait de représenter le surnaturel (esprit, démon), j’y vois une vision d’outre-monde, tantôt lovecraftienne, tantôt l’expression d’une science-fiction accidentelle (extra-terrestre, créature “star trekienne” ou “alienesque”, robot, arme klingonne, etc.). 

Et c’est sous le prisme de ces deux considérations que j’ai visité, et apprécié, cette exposition…

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Samurai’s Promise

Chiri_Tsubaki-posterShinbei is exiled from his clan for investigating its activities too closely. Eight years later, when Shinbei’s dying wife pleads with him to go to help his former best friend, Umeme, he returns to the clan. Infighting has produced turmoil within the clan, allowing Shinbei to discover the truth behind incidents involving his wife and his friend. Confronting Umeme, he understands the reason for his wife’s last wish. (FFM)

This is a very good movie. Its most noticeable aspect is that it offers an excellent photography (which is not surprising since director Kimura acted as his own photography director, a job he has hold many times for other directors like Kinji Fukasaku, Yasuo Furuhata, or Shin’ichirô Sawai). He made great use of the superb location in the Toyama Prefecture (anciently the Etchû province) showing as backdrop the fantastic landscape of the Hida mountains in the Northern Japanese Alps. 

Another aspect that I quickly noticed was that the music was unfortunately very annoying. They used a soundtrack of classical music (which first accords sounded like The Godfather’s music by Nino Rota), playing it again and again recurrently. I think that, for a jidaigeki (samurai movie), a soundtrack of traditional Japanese music would have been better…

Shinbei (Jun’ichi Okada) is exiled from the clan after denouncing as corrupt a high-ranking officer of the clan — who is later mysteriously murdered leaving all the suspicion of culpability on Shinbei. Both Shinbei and his friend Uneme (Hidetoshi Nishijima) were courting Shino (Kumido Aso), but when Uneme’s family denies him the permission to wed Shino, she goes with Shinbei instead. The harsh condition of their exile put a toll on Shino’s health who eventually dies. She makes Shinbei promise to continue living, to go back to their village to observe the camellia falling in spring and to reconcile and help Uneme. When he tries to clear his name and find out the real assassin, he gets entangled in the complex politics of the clan…

Samurai’s Promise is a beautiful and interesting samurai movie. It has a smooth storytelling, although it is sometimes difficult (at the beginning) to understand who’s who and figure out all the plots and politics at play. The acting is good, and particularly the nice realistic combat scenes. It must not have been easy considering the fact that there was many fights in the rain or snow and that the dialogues were using an old form of Japanese. 

Of course, we should expect nothing less from such a veteran director. During his sixty-year career, Daisaku Kimura worked on over fifty films and won many awards. He started his career as camera assistant on Akira Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress (1958). He worked five years with him (on movies like Yojimbo and Sanjuro) and he learned a lot during this time. Eventually, he cames to direct his own movies (Mt. Tsurugidake in 2009 and Climbing to Spring in 2014), mostly about mountain climbing. Samurai’s promise is his first jidaigeki and he made it as a tribute to Kurosawa. It is a beautiful and authentic movie, well worth watching. These days we don’t see much movies like this…

Samurai’s Promise (散り椿 / Chiri Tsubaki / lit. “Falling Camellia”): Japan, 2018, 111 mins; Dir./Phot.: Daisaku Kimura; Scr.: Takashi Koizumi (based on the novel by Rin Hamuro); Ed.: Tomoni Kikuchi; Mus.: Takashi Kako; Prod.: Yoshihiro Sato. Cast: Jun’ichi Okada, Hidetoshi Nishijima, Haru Kuroki, Hirofumi Arai, Kyôko Yoshine, Sosuke Ikematsu, Kumido Aso, Naoto Ogata.

Screened as opening movie (in the “World Competition” program) of the 42nd Montreal World Film Festival (at the Cinema Imperial on Thursday August 23, 2018 at 19:00). stars-3-5

[ AsianWiki / IMDb /  Official  / Youtube ]

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Life in Overtime

Owatta_Hito-posterSosuke Tashiro has a successful career in a large bank until he is transferred – or rather relegated – to a subsidiary until retirement. After decades of dedication to his work, he is lost and idle. He then decides to resume a professional activity, but realizes that the challenge is daunting. Over the course of two meetings, at the gym and at the adult education center, his life is on the move again. (FFM)

This is exactly the type of Japanese movie that I like the most: some sort of family drama that touches us (and often makes us cry) but which, in the end, makes us feel good and laugh. It is so perfectly enjoyable! And the seamless storytelling, the bright, well-framed and beautiful photography, as well as the nice soundtrack (particularly the beautiful song 「あなたはあなたのままでいい」 [Anatawa Anatano Mamadeii / “You can stay as you are”] by Miki Imai) really show the mark of an experienced filmmaker. Strangely, Hideo Nakata is mostly known for his horror movies (Ring, Chaos, Dark Water, Kaidan, etc.) so it is really surprising to see him direct for the first time a more traditional Japanese comedy! This is probably his way to tell us that he is not finished yet and that he can be a polyvalent creator. He does that brilliantly. Unfortunately, he didn’t arrive in time to present the movie and do the Q&A for the first screening at 11:30, and that was a great disappointment for me (I knew I should have gone to the 21:30 screening!). The quality of the production as well as Nakata’s fame makes of Life in Overtime a great contender for the competition. It is surely the best Japanese film I’ve seen at the festival so far this year.

Sosuke studied at the top university in Tokyo and finds himself on the path for an executive position at a large bank, but gets beaten by a rival and ends up finishing his career at a subsidiary branch. He already feels he’s a failure but, when he retires, he finds himself with no hobbies, no dreams, no job and no sympathy at home! What to do? He feels “Retirement is like a premature funeral (…) I don’t want my life to end like this!” It’s like the game is over but you continue to play in overtime in hope to finish on top (I like this idea)!

He tries to find a new purpose in order to make up for his failures. He looks for a new job but his impressive resume torpedoes his efforts. He considers going to graduate school to study literature, makes an attempt at a new romance or, after a chance meeting with the CEO of an IT company, try to start a new career but without any success. However, does it really matter as long as you have a life to enjoy?

Nakata succeeds in giving a realistic depiction of life struggles and relationships while tackling one of the hot topic of the decade: with its aging population, Japanese society has to deal with an ever increasing number of retirees. To keep them mentally and physically fit, it is important to make sure they feel their life is not finished yet and that they can make their experience or expertise valuable and useful to the society. It’s also a challenge on the domestic level as many couples, who never spent lots of time together because they were too busy working, find out that they don’t know much about what to do with each other! Retirement can surely be a shocking change but it is certainly not the end of your life (personally, I know very well that I’ll probably be even busier once I retired — in about 3192 days!). However, for some people, not knowing what to do or not feeling useful anymore can be an horrific experience and, in that aspect, maybe this is an horror movie after all…

Life in overtime, with its sadness and joy as well as its beautiful scenery, gives us plenty to ponder and an excellent movie experience. It is certainly a must see.

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Life in Overtime (終わった人 / Owatta Hito / lit. “A finished man”): Japan, 2018, 125 mins; Dir.: Hideo Nakata; Scr.: Nonji Remoto (Based on the novel by Makiko Uchidate); Phot.: Koichi Saito; Prod.: Masatake Kondo; Cast: Hiroshi Tachi (Sosuke), Hitomi Kuroki (Chigusa), Ryoko Hirosue (Kuri), Asami Usuda (Michiko), Tomorowo Taguchi (Toshihiko), Tsubasa Imai. 

Screened at the Cinema Imperial (Sun. 08/26 at 11:30) as part of the “World Competition” program of the 42nd Montreal World Film Festivalstars-4-0

[ AsianWiki / IMDb / Official / Toei / Youtube ]

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Un Siècle d’Animation Japonaise

Siècle-animation-covEn 2017, l’animation japonaise est plus que jamais un rouage essentiel de la pop culture mondiale. Studios hollywoodiens historiques ou diffuseurs modernes nés avec Internet, les géants du divertissement investissent dans ce média dont les spécificités graphiques ont été adoptées par plusieurs générations de spectateurs.

À la fois composante et reflet de sa culture nationale, l’animation japonaise trouve pourtant sa source dans les expérimentations cinématographiques occidentales de la fin du XIXe siècle. En remontant à ses origines, Un siècle d’animation japonaise parcourt les évolutions marquantes vécues tant par les créateurs que par le public de ce média jusqu’à  nos jours.

Avancées technologiques, prolifération des genres, mutations économiques, oeuvres et artistes majeurs, triomphes et débâcles, consécration mondiale publique et critique… Découvrez comment, en cent ans, une terre inexplorée est devenue un eldorado économico-culturel dont les ressources semblent aujourd’hui s’amenuiser. Accessible aux néophytes comme aux passionnés, Un siècle d’animation japonaise vous propose de revivre cette aventure afin de mieux comprendre un média définitivement ancré dans notre quotidien.

(Texte du site de l’éditeur; voir aussi la couverture arrière)

J’avais brièvement parlé de cet ouvrage en janvier et je viens tout juste de mettre la main dessus (en bibliothèque — car je n’en possède malheureusement pas de copie puisque mes demandes de service de presse sont restées sans réponse et que, comme je n’écris plus vraiment sur l’anime, je ne peu pas justifier de dépenser $50 pour un bouquin de référence aussi utile soit-il). Pas besoins de le consulter longtemps pour réaliser que c’est un excellent ouvrage. Je dirais même qu’il est essentiel pour tout amateur d’anime qui se respecte car il existe peu de références qui traitent de l’histoire de l’animation japonaise (surtout en français). Avec cet ouvrage, Animeland célèbre un siècle d’animation Japonaise…

L’ouvrage est divisé en quatre grandes périodes historiques:

  • Le cinéma noir et blanc (1917-1957): Balbutiements et premiers écueils (Premières explorations, premiers revers / Renouveau et avancées technologiques / La propagande dans l’animation / L’après-guerre: l’aube du modernisme)
  • Le cinéma couleur et la télévision (1958-1982): L’animation industrielle (Le cinéma, un nouveau modèle économique / Nouveau média, nouvelles méthodes / La grande expansion); Le nouveau marché (un marché installé / La consécration de la science-fiction / Le retour du celluloïd au cinéma)
  • Les trois médias (1983-1995): La crise d’adolescence (Un nouveau marché, l’OAV / Télévision: la fidélisation du téléspectateur / Cinéma: les licenses fortes); L’énergie canalisée (L’émancipation des artistes / Mutation économique / L’entrée dans un nouveau monde)
  • L’ère numérique (1996-2017): La folie des grandeurs (Liberté artistique / La révolution numérique / Le médiamix à son paroxysme / La consécration mondiale); Le tonneau des Danaïdes (L’otaku, ce héros des comptes modernes / Climat de crise / Élargissement des cibles / Globalisation)

Comme tout ouvrage de référence qui se respecte, ce livre se termine avec un glossaire, un index des noms propres mentionnés (étrangement non paginé!) et une (trop) courte bibliographie.

C’est un ouvrage bien écrit, agréable à l’oeil, amplement illustré et très informatif. Il n’est pas rébarbatif pour les néophytes mais reste suffisamment détaillé pour intéresser aussi les amateurs endurcis. Personnellement, j’ai trouvé trois aspects particulièrement intéressants dans Un Siècle d’Animation Japonaise: 1) le premier chapitre, car il y a peu de documentation sur les débuts de l’animation Japonaise; 2) le dernier chapitre, car cela fait longtemps que je suis plutôt déconnecté du sujet et c’est intéressant de lire sur ce qui s’est produit dans la dernière décennie; 3) les auteurs nous présentent, “à la fin de chaque période (…), une sélection récapitulative de douze oeuvres synthétisant les tendances majeures de l’époque” qui peut servir de recommendation pour ceux qui se demandent quels anime valent la peine d’être visionné.

Finalement, un dernier aspect m’a fait grandement apprécié Un Siècle d’Animation Japonaise: j’ai eu le privilège de vraiment vivre l’aventure de l’anime à une époque où le medium était à son sommet (de la fin des années ’80 au début des années 2000) et cet ouvrage a réveillé en moi la douce nostalgie de cette période dorée. Ah!, la joie de découvrir des anime comme Macross, Megazone 23 Part 2, Area 88, Bubblegum Crisis, Ranma 1/2, Orange Road, Nausicaä, Laputa, Grave of the Fireflies, Wings of Honneamise, Akira, Nadia, Windaria, Record of Lodoss War, Patlabor, Porco Rosso, Whisper of the Heart, Gunbuster, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Ghost in the Shell, Vision of Escaflowne, Cowboy Bebop… Je dois bien avouer que ce temps-là me manque. J’en ai un peu revécu l’excitation récemment quand j’ai visionné Your Name. de Makoto Shinkai. Oui, quelle belle nostalgie… Mais cette époque semble bien révolue. Si par le passé l’anime a eut un impact culturel sur l’ensemble de la planète, je ne vois plus beaucoup d’animation nippone qui soit suffisamment originale et innovatrice pour m’impressionner… À moins que que soit parce que je suis devenu plus exigeant et difficile.

En conclusion, si l’animation Japonaise vous intéresse moindrement, c’est un ouvrage essentiel à lire (en bibliothèque) ou a conserver sur votre étagère de référence (si vous en avez les moyens).

Un siècle d’animation Japonaise, par Matthieu Pinon et Philippe Bunel. Paris: Ynnis Éditions, novembre 2017. 208 pages, 24 x 27 cm, 29,90€ / $49.95 Can. ISBN 9791093376806. Pour lectorat tout public. stars-4-0

Pour en savoir plus vous pouvez consulter les sites suivants:

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© 2017, Ynnis Éditions.

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Japanese movies at the FFM 2018

FFM2018-banner

FFM2018-posterThe 42nd Montreal World Film Festival will be held from August 23rd to September 3rd 2018. So far there is only seven eight Japanese films listed in the line-up. We will add more details as they are available.

Of course, the festival has had financial troubles for sometime and run on a very minimal staff, so we shouldn’t expect a smooth operation. It will certainly not be better than last year. But the most important part of the festival is that there is movies to watch. This year it will be the nineteenth year that we are covering this movie festival and we hope that it will recover from this difficult period and prosper for many years to come.

The schedule for the Cinema Imperial (CI) is now available (2018/08/22). And the schedule for the Cinéma Quartier Latin (QL) is now also available (2018/08/23). As for previous years, the closing film will be a mystery title to be screened for free at the Cinema Imperial Monday September 3rd at 18:30. 

The FFM just announced the awards for the 42nd Montreal’s World Film Festival and for the 49th Student Film Festival (2018/09/03).

Two Japanese movies won an award: Samurai’s Promise by Daisaku Kimura won for the Special Grand Prix of the Jury (Ex-aequo) and Hiroshi Tachi won the Best Actor award for his role in Life in overtime by Hideo Nakata.

Please, read our comments on the festival:

 

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Here is the Japanese movies line-up (after the jump) :

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Italian week 2018

SettimanaItalianaDiMontrealLike last year, we have visited the Settimana Italiana di Montreal (the Italian Week), festival held all over Montreal (but mostly in Little Italy, on St-Laurent street between St-Zotique and Jean-Talon streets) from August 3rd to 12th.

This year the festival celebrated its 25th Anniversary with many activities: an exhibition of all its promotional posters, a Fiat 500 car exposition, guided tours, a film festival, an opera presentation of Puccini’s “La Bohème”, a parade of the Sbandieratori Borghi e Sestieri Fiorentini (a group of Italian flag-throwers keeping alive the old military flag-waving tradition), and lots of food, musical displays and entertainments. Each local Italian association has a booth to inform about their activities. It was very interesting.

Here is a photo album and a short video (15 mins) as a memento of this year’s festival:

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