Cartoon tradition

It is the tradition for my Christmas vacations to read and watch lots of cartoons. Sometimes I read again the complete collection of Astérix or of Tintin. And, at this time of the year, there’s plenty of cartoon on TV. This year, since I am already reading plenty of manga, I decided to go in the documentary way. I’ve found and watched two interesting documentaries about famous cartoon artists (and I read a book of each for good mesure).

Who are you, Charlie Brown?

WhoAreYouCharlieBrown-posterThis documentary, narrated by Lupita Nyong’o, is covering three subjects. First, it brings us a new animated story where Charlie Brown agonize on the fact that he must write an essay about himself for school and he goes on a quest of self-discovery. Also, with the help of old interviews with Charles M Schulz (aka “Sparky”) and some of his close friends and family members we learn about who was the creator of Peanuts and about the genesis of the comics. Finally, fans, actors and other creators discuss the influence the comics had on them and on the global culture. 

The documentary is interesting and also very entertaining, but also a little short and somewhat superficial. We see some early drawings of the Peanuts’ gang (a comic strip called Lil’ Folks) but it never mentions his other comic series, like Young Pillars (which I commented in 2015) or It’s Only a Game. It also doesn’t mention the fact that Schulz’ house was burned down during the Santa Rosa’s fire in October 2017. Fortunately, the nearby Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center, where the original illustrations are stored, was spared.  Nevertheless, this documentary is a great way to celebrate the cultural icon that Charlie Brown is and introduce him to a new generation of comic readers.

Who are you, Charlie Brown? : USA, 2021, 54 min.; Dir.: Michael Bonfiglio; Scr.: Michael Bonfiglio & Marcella Steingart; Ed.: Tim K. Smith; Music: Jeff Morrow; Rated PG. It has received a score of 88% on Rotten Tomatoes (91% from the audience) and 7.2/10 on IMDb. stars-3-5

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NiceShotSnoopy-covOf course, after viewing this documentary I was feeling like reading some old Charlie Brown comics. I chose a short one and got lost in nostalgia. When I was a kid, having outgrown the school library, I was making regular trips to one of the city’s libraries to borrow Peanuts’ compilations (the library was located on top of an old fire-station and it reeked of gaz and engine’ oil — for years after that the idea of a library was evoking in me a mix of awe and nauseous feelings!)

This book offers a selection of cartoons from the compilation The Way of the fussbudget is not easy, vol. III. Part of the Peanuts Coronet collection (#79), it was meant to provide a shorter and more affordable sampling of the Peanuts’ world. It present a single four-panel strip per page. The volume doesn’t have a particular thematic and I don’t know if the strips are in chronological order. It is simply a variety of stories involving all characters (Snoopy and Woodstock, Linus and Lucy, Peppermint Patty and Marcie, Schroeder, Pig-Pen, Spike, and, of course, Sally and Charlie Brown). It is a light reading that provides mindless vintage entertainment.

NiceShotSnoopy-p024-025

Page 24-25

Nice shot, Snoopy!, by Charles M Schulz. New York: Fawcett Crest (Ballantine Books/Random House), May 1988. 128 pages, 4.25 x 7 in., $US 2.95 / $C 3.95, ISBN 0-449-21404-4. For readership of all ages. stars-3-0

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© 1983, 1984 by United Feature Syndicate, Inc

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Dear Mr. Watterson

DearMrWatterson-posterThis is an older documentary but I just discovered it. It explores the phenomenon that is the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, interview lots of people (fans, actor Seth Green, editor Lee Salem and other artists) who pay tribute to its popularity and talk about how it influenced them and the global culture. It also talks a little about its creator, Bill Watterson, who NEVER appears in the documentary (apparently he is a very shy and private person). 

It is a very interesting documentary and it reminded me of all the reasons why Calvin and Hobbes was my favourite comic strip. Unfortunately, I was quite disappointed that I couldn’t learn more about its creator (although I can understand why someone who’s such a purist about his art would shy away fame and a fortune in licensing). However, the documentary also talk about the cartoon world in general and, if I couldn’t see Mr. Watterson, I could hear from many of the artists who created other strips that I like a lot too: Berkeley Breathed (Bloom County), Stephan Pastis (Pearls Before Swine), Jan Eliot (Stone Soup), Bill Amend (FoxTrot), Wiley Miller (Non Sequitur), Dan Piraro (Bizarro), etc. It was definitively worth watching.

Dear Mr. Watterson : USA, 2013, 89 min.; Dir.: Joel Allen Schroeder; Phot.: Andrew Waruszewski; Ed.: Joel Allen Schroeder; Music: Mike Boggs; Prod.: Chris Browne & Matt McUsic; Rated PG. It has received a score of 62% on Rotten Tomatoes (51% from the audience), 54% on Metacritic and 6.4/10 on IMDb. stars-3-0

To learn more about this title you can consult the following web sites:

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EssentialCalvinAndHobbes-covAgain, watching this documentary made me want to read the comic again. I have a little less than a dozen compilations and I chose to read the one that I thought would be the most representative: The Essential Calvin and Hobbes, which includes all strips from the first two compilations (Calvin and Hobbes and Something Under the Bed Is Drooling). In this strip we enviously follow the (mis)adventures of an over-imaginative boy with his pet (stuffed?) tiger. It is superbly drawn in a simple, clean but descriptive style. The humour is brilliant. It is both entertaining and full of meaning. A must read.

The Essential Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson. Kansas City: Andrews & McMeel (Universal Press Syndicate), March 1989. 256 pages, 8.5 x 10.7 in., $US $18.99 / $C 37.99, ISBN 0-8362-1805-1. For teenage readership (12+). stars-4-0

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© 1988 by Universal Press Syndicate.

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Free State of Jones

During the Civil War some people from Jones County in Mississippi got tired to be regularly fleeced by the confederate army. So a bunch of farmers and escaped slaves decided to fight back and, since they couldn’t get help from the North either, they created their own independent country. In parallel we follow a descendant of the main character who, eighty-five years later, is on trial for intermarrying while being one-eight black! An historical movie that just shows us things never change. An interesting movie to watch now as the Republicans try to roll back the African American right to vote. It is certainly a difficult subject and that’s probably why it was not well received by the viewers and didn’t make any money (they recovered just about half of the production cost!). Personally, I quite enjoyed it: despite the controversial subject it manages to remain entertaining, as there is a good deal of action, it is interesting because it is based on a true story and it is beautifully filmed. What more could I asked? It’s on Netflix, so give it a try!

FreeStateOfJonesFree State of Jones : USA, 2016, 140 min.; Dir./Scr.: Gary Ross (based on the books The Free State of Jones by Victoria E. Bynum and The State of Jones by Sally Jenkins and John Stauffer); Phot.: Benoît Delhomme; Ed.: Pamela Martin & Juliette Welfling; Music: Nicholas Britell; Cast: Matthew McConaughey (Newton Knight), Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mahershala Ali, and Keri Russell; Rated 14A. It has received a score of 48% on Rotten Tomatoes (64% from the audience), 53% on Metacritic and 6.9/10 on IMDb. stars-3-5

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Finch

This is quite an interesting post-apocalyptic movie. The survivor of a solar flare that devastated earth build a robot to take care of his dog when he will be gone — he suffers from radiation sickness since the flare destroyed the ozone layer and earth is bathed in cosmic rays. Because there’s a huge storm coming he must leave his refuge and decide to travel to San Francisco. Through the journey we learn a little more about his past and how the human civilisation was destroyed. However he has little time left to train the robot and teach him concepts like caring and trust. It feels like a prequel to Simak’s novel, City, where a robot and some talking dogs are overseeing a post-human civilization. As the robot is like a little kid, this is a kind of coming of age story. It is surprising how much a single actor (well, it’s Tom Hanks after all), a CGI robot and a dog can be entertaining ! 

FinchFinch : USA, 2021, 115 min.; Dir.: Miguel Sapochnik; Scr.: Craig Luck & Ivor Powell; Phot.: Jo Willems; Ed.: Tim Porter; Music: Gustavo Santaolalla; Cast:Tom Hanks and Caleb Landry Jones (motion-captured Jeff); Rated PG. It has received a score of 73% on Rotten Tomatoes (66% from the audience), 57% on Metacritic and 6.9/10 on IMDb. stars-3-0

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News of the world

More Tom Hanks. A former Confederate officer, who has nothing left to go back to, is traveling from town to town reading newspapers to the busy locals for a meagre fee. During his travels he finds a young girl of German origin who was kidnapped and raised by Native American and now speaks only Kiowa. He brings her to the local outpost of the Bureau of Indian Affairs so she can be repatriated to Castroville where she has surviving relatives, but the army — too busy trying to maintain law and order — cannot take care of her. Reluctantly, he decides to undertake the four hundred miles journey on his own. After facing many dangers he succeeds in his mission, only to realize that her relatives would only use her as a labourer on their farm wasting her great potential… It could be just a cute adventure movie if it was not loaded with civil rights implications (the relocation of Native Americans in Indian Territory) and set in such a gritty and harsh environment. I didn’t realize that Texas was such a dry place. It is a western full of action, but also rich in thought provoking concepts which highlights a very interesting period of American history: the Reconstruction era. The peace took a long time to come back particularly in frontier area like Texas. It makes of this movie a fascinating story (unfortunately it didn’t make any money, recovering only a third of its production cost… A shame!). 

NewsOfTheWorldNews of the world : USA, 2020, 118 min.; Dir.: Paul Greengrass; Scr.: Paul Greengrass & Luke Davies (based on the novel by Paulette Jiles); Phot.: Dariusz Wolski; Ed.: William Goldenberg; Music: James Newton Howard; Cast:Tom Hanks (Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd), Helena Zengel (Johanna Leonberger / Cicada), Elizabeth Marvel (Ella Gannett); Rated PG. It has received a score of 88% on Rotten Tomatoes (89% from the audience), 73% on Metacritic and 6.8/10 on IMDb. *** stars-3-0

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The summit of the gods

This is a French animated movie that adapts one of Jiro Taniguchi’s masterpieces: Kamigami no Itadaki (神々の山嶺) — the seinen manga was originally serialized in Business Jump monthly magazine from 2000 to 2003 and compiled in five volumes by Shueisha; it was published in France by Kana in 2004 under the titled “Le sommet des dieux” and in English by Fanfare/Ponent Mon in 2007. It was also adapted into a Japanese live-action film directed by Hideyuki Hirayama. 

It tells the story of photojournalist Makoto Fukamachi who, while covering a failed attempt to climb the Everest in Kathmandu, hears that Mallory’s camera has been found. If true this would change the history of mountain-climbing if someone had a definitive proof that Mallory’s expedition had been the first (or not) to reach the summit. Fukamachi thinks that the man in possession of the camera is Jôji Habu, a Japanese mountaineer that has not been seen for years. Back in Japan, he starts investigating Habu, researching archives and interviewing some of his old colleagues and friends. Through his investigation — which has become an obsession — we learn more about who is this Habu. Fukamachi finally catches up to him in the Himalayas as he is preparing to climb the Everest southwest face in winter and without oxygen ! He proposes him to cover his expedition and slowly earns his friendship and trust. What mountaineers seek is the thrill of the journey and achieving the goal, sometimes forgetting about their safety or even the necessity of a return trip…

It is a beautiful story, full of action and suspense, that constitute an ode to mountaineering. As far as I can tell, it seems quite faithful to the manga. The animation is really splendid and is quite a tribute to Taniguchi’s superb artwork. A must-see !

SummitOfTheGodsThe summit of the gods : France / Luxembourg, 2021, 90 min.; Dir.: Patrick Imbert; Scr.: Patrick Imbert, Magali Pouzol & Jean-Charles Ostorero (based on the manga by Jiro Taniguchi and the 1998 novel by Baku Yumemakura); Dir. Art.: David Coquard-Dassault; Ed.: Benjamin Massoubre & Camillelvis Théry; Music: Amine Bouhafa; Prod.: Folivari & Mélusine; Voice Cast:Damien Boisseau (Fukamachi), Lazare Herson-Macarel (young Habu), Eric Herson-Macarel (old Habu), Kylian Rehlinger (Kishi), Philippe Vincent (editor in chief), Gautier Battoue (young Inoue), Jérôme Keen (old Inoue), Elisabeth Ventura (Ryoko), François Dunoyer (Ang Tsering), Luc Bernard (Ito), Marc Arnaud (Hase), Cédric Dumond (Nima); Rated PG. It has received a score of 100% on Rotten Tomatoes (86% from the audience), 78% on Metacritic and 7.5/10 on IMDb. stars-4-0

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Dune: Part One

The House Atreides receives as a new fief from the Padishah Emperor Shaddam Corrino IV the planet Arrakis. It was previously under the rule of their arch-enemy, the House Harkonnen, and is the only source of the most precious substance in the universe, the Spice, as it is essential to the Spacing Guild Navigators. It expands consciousness, giving them the prescience needed for interstellar travel. However, it is a poisonous gift. House Atreides has become too powerful and the Emperor seeks to destroy them. Unassuming young Paul Atreides, the only son to the Duke, must leave his beloved Caladan for the dangerous desert planet. After an assassination attempt, the betrayal of his family by the Imperial House and the invasion of his new home by the cruel Harkonnen, he must flee with his mother into the desert and seek refuge among its native population, the Fremen. Against all rules of her Order, Paul has been trained by his mother in the Bene Gesserit way which gives him an hidden advantage. Quickly, the young boy will have to become a man and step into a prophetized future…

As far as I can remember the novel, the movie seems to be faithful to the original story. It seems to be the best adaptation of the novel so far. Some aspects were changed or removed to better suit a cinematic narration but the original spirit of the book is all there. None of those changes bother me. It was quite a powerful book and the movie is even more powerful as it offer strong imagery and soundtrack. The action is good. The cast is well chosen (Zendaya as Chani is perfect!). My only complaint is… where and when is the rest of the story !!! I can’t wait for the release of the second part. Unfortunately I don’t think there’s any planning for going further than the first book… A must-see if you like great sci-fi or are a fan of the novel.

Dune-2021-posterDune: Part One : USA, 2021, 156 min.; Dir.: Denis Villeneuve; Scr.: Denis Villeneuve, Jon Spaihts & Eric Roth (based on the novel by Frank Herbert); Phot.: Greig Fraser; Ed.: Joe Walker; Music: Hans Zimmer; Prod.: Legendary Pictures; Cast:Timothée Chalamet (Paul Atreides), Rebecca Ferguson (Lady Jessica), Oscar Isaac (Duke Leto Atreides), Josh Brolin (weapon master Gurney Halleck), Stellan Skarsgård (Baron Vladimir Harkonnen), Dave Bautista (Rabban), Stephen McKinley Henderson (Mentat Thufir Hawat), Zendaya (Chani), David Dastmalchian (Mentat Piter De Vries), Chang Chen (Suk doctor Wellington Yueh), Sharon Duncan-Brewster (Imperial ecologist Dr. Liet-Kynes), Charlotte Rampling (Reverend Mother Gaius Helen Mohiam), Jason Momoa (swordmaster Duncan Idaho), and Javier Bardem (Fremen leader Stilgar).; Rated 13+. It has received a score of 83% on Rotten Tomatoes (90% from the audience), 74% on Metacritic and 8.2/10 on IMDb. stars-4-0

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The life ahead

A movie with Sophia Loren based on a novel by Emile Ajar about a young troubled Nigerian boy taken in by a retired prostitute who survived the nazi dead camps. The original story was set in Paris, but for the purpose of this movie they moved it to the city of Bari in Italy. The director is the son of Sophia Loren and Carlo Ponti Sr. The same story was also adapted by Moshé Mizrahi in a 1977 movie titled Madame Rosa and starring Simone Signoret. It is a beautiful but slow movie (like most European film). It is amazing that Loren can still perform so well in her eighties!

TheLifeAhead-posterThe Life Ahead (La vita davanti a sé): Italy, 2020, 95 min.; Dir.: Edoardo Ponti; Scr.: Edoardo Ponti & Ugo Chiti (baed on the novel La vie devant soi  by Emile Ajar (Romain Gary); Phot.: Angus Hudson; Ed.: Jacopo Quadri; Music: Gabriel Yared; Cast: Sophia Loren (Madame Rosa), Ibrahima Gueye (Momo), Abril Zamora (Lola), Renato Carpentieri (Dr. Coen), Babak Karimi (Hamil), Massimiliano Rossi (drug dealer); Rated PG. It has received a score of 92% on Rotten Tomatoes (76% from the audience), 66% on Metacritic and 6.8/10 on IMDb. stars-3-0

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The Dig

This movie gives us a romantic adaptation of the true story of the discovery of what would become the king tut of Britain… In 1939, as WW2 looms, a Suffolk landowner hires a local amateur archaeologist to investigate a series of tumuli that reveal to be an Anglo-Saxon ship burial dating from the 6th or 7th century, belonging possibly to King Rædwald of East Anglia. It is now known as the ship burial of Sutton Hoo and constitute what is probably the greatest treasure ever discovered in the United Kingdom. The story is interesting because it shows that countryside archaeology is nothing simple or glamorous as it reveals all the gritty details of the endeavour. The movie is not entirely accurate as it has diminished the importance of Peggy Piggott (played by Lily James), changed the age of some characters and eliminated the people (Mercie Lack, Barbara Wagstaff and O.G.S. Crawford) who documented the dig with photography to replace them by one single fictional character, Rory Lomax, in order to simplify the story and add a romantic interest for the main character. It remains entertaining and quite educational as it teach viewers about an important discovery.

TheDig-posterThe Dig : UK / USA, 2021, 112 min.; Dir.: Simon Stone; Scr.: Moira Buffini (based on the novel by John Preston); Phot.: Mike Eley; Ed.: Jon Harris; Music: Stefan Gregory; Cast: Carey Mulligan (Edith Pretty), Ralph Fiennes (Basil Brown), Lily James (Peggy Piggott), Johnny Flynn (Rory Lomax), Ben Chaplin, Ken Stott, Archie Barnes, and Monica Dolan.; Rated PG-13. It has received a score of 88% on Rotten Tomatoes (78% from the audience), 73% on Metacritic and 7.1/10 on IMDb. stars-3-0

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Once upon a time… in Hollywood

Another very good Tarantino movie, full of stars, drama, suspense and, of course, violence. We follow an has-been western actor (Rick Dalton played by DiCaprio) and his buddy stunt-double (Cliff Booth played by Pitt) as they keep criss-closing path with their neighbours, the Polanski/Tate couple, and a group of hippies. The fateful night when they all meet is approaching… Tarantino uses a couple of fictional characters to weave a complex storyline that skillfully mixes comedy with drama and tell the nostalgic story of a film industry that is about to move from its fading Golden age to a new era. It is a compelling movie that is both entertaining and edifying as it is full of interesting cultural references. And I never saw the twist of the end coming !

OnceUponATimeInHollywoodOnce upon a time in Hollywood : USA / UK / China, 2019, 161 min.; Dir./Scr.: Quentin Tarantino; Phot.: Robert Richardson; Ed.: Fred Raskin; Cast:  Leonardo DiCaprio (Dalton), Brad Pitt (Booth), Margot Robbie (Sharon Tate), Rafał Zawierucha (Roman Polanski), Damon Herriman (Manson), Mike Moh (Bruce Lee), Damian Lewis (Steve McQueen); Rated 14A. It has received a score of 85% on Rotten Tomatoes (70% from the audience), 83% on Metacritic and 7.6/10 on IMDb. stars-3-5

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TV News

Great news for those who love watching good TV.  All the excellent series that were running on Apple TV (like See, The Morning Show, Foundation and Invasion) might have concluded their seasons for this year, but new shows are coming back on other channels.

On Netflix you will find:

And I still have so much more to watch on Netflix — and I am hoping for more seasons of The Irregulars (cancelled apparently) or Shadow and Bone (based on Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse series of fantasy novels and renewed for a second season).

On Amazon Prime Video you will find:

  • The Expense (the superb sci-fi TV series based on James S. A. Corey’s novels) is back with a sixth (and final) season of six episodes. A must-see !!!

Less new stuff here but, anyway, I still haven’t watch The Man in the High Castle, P. K. Dick’s Electric Dreams, The Tomorrow War or The Wheel of Time or Tales from the Loop or The luminaries or Library War or Vinland Saga — and I still hope for a new seasons of The Boys, Jack Ryan, or Carnival Row, which all seem to have been delayed by the covid pandemic…

Finally, Dune (the great 156-minute movie by Denis Villeneuve based on Frank Herbert’s saga) is already available to rent ($24.99) or for purchase ($29.99) on both Amazon Prime Video and Apple TV.

Oh, and the fourth Matrix movie, The Matrix Resurrections will be released on December 22nd not only in theatres but also on HBO MAX (but only in the USA)!

Umm, and the new 10-episode series of Shogun (based on James Clavell novel, starring Cosmo Jarvis, Hiroyuki Sanada and Anna Sawai, and set to air on FX) is still in production. Filming started in September and will last until next April, so it will certainly not be released until the end of 2022 or even early 2023…

That’s all for now.

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Justine et les Durrells

Justine-covEn Grèce, sur une île des Cyclades, un homme se souvient de la ville d’Alexandrie. Avec une mémoire d’archiviste, il raconte ce qu’il a vécu là-bas avant la Seconde Guerre mondiale. Narrateur anonyme, Anglo-Irlandais entre deux âges, professeur par nécessité, il classe ses souvenirs, raconte son amour pour Justine, une jeune pianiste séduisante, un peu nymphomane et somnambule ; il évoque sa liaison avec l’émouvante Melissa, sa maîtresse phtisique. D’autres personnages se dessinent. D’abord Nessim, le mari amoureux et complaisant de Justine, Pombal, le Français, Clea, l’artiste-peintre, Balthazar, le médecin philosophe. Mais Justine, d’abord Justine, est au coeur de ce noeud serré, complexe, étrange, d’amours multiples et incertaines… 

En achevant le premier tome de son fameux Quatuor d’Alexandrie (Balthazar, Mountolive et Clea succéderont à Justine et seront publiés entre 1957 et 1960), Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990) en donna à son ami Henry Miller une définition devenue célèbre : “C’est une sorte de poème en prose adressé à l’une des grandes capitales du coeur, la Capitale de la mémoire…”

[Texte du site de Renaud-Bray]

(Attention, lire l’avertissement de possible divulgacheurs)

Un Britannique déchu, l’aspirant romancier et enseignant L.G. Darley, évoque les souvenirs d’une affaire qu’il a eu à Alexandrie avec la passionnée Justine Hosnari et par ce fait tente de s’exorciser de cet amour impossible. Justine est un roman d’atmosphère sur l’amour — l’amour d’une femme mais surtout l’amour d’une cité: Alexandrie. C’est très beau, très bien écrit mais aussi un peu ennuyant. Cela m’a pris presque deux ans à lire ces deux-cent cinquante pages, dans mes moments libres, entre d’autres livres. C’est la première partie d’une tétralogie (Le Quatuor d’Alexandrie) où chacune des parties est plus ou moins axées sur un personnage différent (Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive et Cléa), offrant chaque fois une perspective différentes sur l’entourage du narrateur (L.G. Darley).

Quatuor-d-Alexandrie-covL’auteur, Lawrence Durrell, est un homme très cosmopolite qui haïssait l’Angleterre (sa société rigide et son climat). Né en Inde il a successivement habité à Corfou en Grèce, à Paris (où il a collaboré avec Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin et Alfred Perlès), à Alexandrie (où il était attaché de presse de l’ambassade Britannique), à Rhodes, en Argentine (où il travaillait pour le British Council Institute), en Yougoslavie, à Chypre (où il a été enseignant) et il s’est établi finalement dans le sud de la France. Le Quatuor d’Alexandrie a définitivement des accents autobiographiques, Durrell s’inspirant d’éléments de sa propre vie: son travail pour le gouvernement Britannique, le fait que sa première épouse s’installe à Jérusalem après leur séparation (comme Justine qui part pour un kibboutz en Palestine), et sa deuxième femme (Eve, une juive alexandrine) étant hospitalisée en Angleterre suite à une dépression, il s’installe à Chypre avec leur fille et prend un travail d’enseignant (comme le narrateur du roman). Et il a sûrement beaucoup aimé la ville d’Alexandrie… C’est là qu’il a rencontré Eve. C’est une ville cosmopolite comme lui, qui offre un complexe mélange de toutes les cultures et toutes les religions. Riches et pauvres s’y côtoient, partageant une culture tant Européenne qu’Arabe, sans trop s’offusquer des moeurs ou de la religion de chacun, qu’ils soient musulmans, juifs, orthodoxes ou chrétiens.

Justine, publié en 1957, a été écrit pendant le séjour de Durrell à Chypre (1952-56). Si il a une belle écriture et qu’il utilise une prose sensuelle et poétique, son style est plutôt expérimental pour l’époque. La narration est désarticulée, avançant et reculant au fil des souvenirs et des sentiments du personnage principal. Et comme ces flashbacks interviennent généralement sans la moindre transition, cela peut laisser le lecteur confus. Si le coeur du récit est le triangle amoureux entre le narrateur, Justine et son mari, le banquier copte Nessim, Durrell y ajoute un ensemble de personnages colorés qu’il utilise pour évoquer la beauté et la diversité de l’Alexandrie d’avant-guerre, ajouter une intrigue socio-politique et même un discours philosophique (voir mystique, au travers du groupe d’adeptes de la Cabbale qui se réunit autour de Balthazar). Toutefois, il s’en sert surtout pour donner une perspective multiple au récit (un peu comme dans le film Rashōmon). C’est aussi en quelque sorte un concept dickien, puisqu’il explore comment notre perception de la réalité est somme toute relative…

“Nous cherchons tous des motifs rationnels de croire à l’absurde. (…) après tous les ouvrages des philosophes sur son âme et des docteurs sur son corps, que pouvons-nous affirmer que nous sachions réellement sur l’Homme? Qu’il est, en fin de compte, qu’un passage pour les liquides et les solides, un tuyau de chair.”

— Lawrence Durrell, Justine (Le Quatuor d’Alexandrie, Le livre de Poche, p. 93) [une réflexion qui rappelle beaucoup Marcus Aurelius dans ses Pensées pour moi-même]

Cette complexité stylistique fait de ce roman, paradoxalement, à la fois un texte attrayant qui captive par sa beauté (au point qu’on en continue la lecture parfois sans même porter attention au récit) et une lecture difficile, voir même par moment désagréable. Je ne sais trop si c’est parce que j’ai lu ce roman par petits bouts, ou parce que j’ai changé plusieurs fois de la version originale à la traduction française (selon la disponibilité du document) mais l’écriture de Durrell m’est apparu compliquée et même parfois difficile à déchiffrer. Il me fallait souvent relire un paragraphe plus d’une fois pour en saisir le sens — certaines phrases échappant totalement à ma compréhension! C’est la version originale qui m’a donné le plus de fil à retordre. Est-ce dû à mon niveau de lecture de la langue de Shakespeare (que je croyais pourtant excellente) ou est-ce que le traducteur français en a poli le texte plus qu’il n’aurait dû en arrondissant certains angles du style de Durrell? Ou alors c’est simplement le style désarticulée de Durrell qui est très demandant. Étrangement, pour passer le temps au travail, j’ai commencé à lire le second tome, Balthazar. Je le lis par curiosité sans avoir vraiment l’intension de le terminer. Chose surprenante, je trouve cette lecture plus facile et plus agréable. Sans vraiment parler d’ “action”, l’histoire progresse plus rapidement et est moins “atmosphérique.” Avec la seconde partie, l’auteur a probablement trouvé son rythme… On verra si j’en continue la lecture…

D’une certaine façon ce roman m’a plus intéressé pour ce qu’il reflétait de la vie de son auteur que pour son récit lui-même. Durrell est un auteur réputé (qui a même été considéré pour un prix Nobel de littérature) et Justine (en fait, l’ensemble de la tétralogie) est considéré comme son chef-d’oeuvre, se plaçant soixante-dixième parmi les cents meilleurs romans de langue anglaise du vingtième siècle. Alors, même si mon impression est plutôt mitigé parce que j’en ai trouvé la lecture difficile, je crois que c’est tout de même un beau roman, profond, qui mérite d’être lu.

Justine (The Alexandria Quartet #1), by Lawrence Durrell. New York: Penguin, July 1991. 253 pages, $19.00 US / $22.50 CND. ISBN 9780140153194. stars-2-5

Vous trouverez plus d’information sur les sites suivants:

[ AmazonGoodreadsGoogleNelliganWikipediaWorldCat ]

• • •

Le Quatuor d’Alexandrie (Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, Clea) par Lawrence Durrell (Traduction par  Roger Giroux). Paris: Livre de Poche (Coll. Classiques modernes / Pochothèque), octobre 1992. 1056 pages, 25,00 € / $44.95 Can., ISBN 978-2-330-07074-8. Pour lectorat jeune adulte (16+).

[ AmazonGoodreadsGoogleNelliganWikipediaWorldCat ]

Justine, le film

Quelle ne fut pas ma surprise de découvrir que la tétralogie a été adapté en un film hollywoodien à la fin des année soixante ! Il est décrit comme “Les amours d’un jeune Anglais à Alexandrie à la fin des années 1930 avec une prostituée et la femme d’un riche banquier qui complote contre les Anglais” (Wikipedia). 

Le film me semble relativement fidèle au roman. Bien sûr certaines scènes ont été changées et, comme je n’ai lu que le premier quart de la tétralogie, je ne peut pas juger du reste. Je me demande cependant si la partie avec le traffic d’arme et le fait que Darley a été manipulé par Justine a été ajouté pour le film ou si c’est simplement dans la partie du roman que je n’ai pas lu. Si cela représente bien reste de l’histoire, je suis intrigué et peut-être continuerai-je à le lire… Le roman se lit peut être comme un oignon et, avec chaque nouvelle partie, Darley découvre sans doute des vérités de plus en plus profondes sur Justine…

Le film offre une narration bien évidemment linéaire avec juste les éléments essentiels de l’intrigue. Vu de cette façon les personnages sont étrangement bidimentionnels. Est-ce que cela fait du sens pour celui qui n’a pas lu le roman? Et le film nous présente une Alexandrie qui semble plus perverse que belle…

Malheureusement, malgré un casting rempli d’acteurs connus, le film fut un échec total puisqu’il ne rapporta qu’un peu plus de deux millions de dollars au Box Office (alors qu’il en a coûté presque huit à produire).  Il semble aussi qu’il ait fait piètre impression sur l’audience qui ne lui a donné une cote que 5.6 / 10 sur IMBd et 36% sur Rotten Tomatoes. 

Justine-dvdJustine: USA, 1969, 116 min.; Dir.: George Cukor & Joseph Strick; Scr.: Lawrence B. Marcus & Andrew Sarris (basé sur le roman éponyme de Lawrence Durrell); Phot.: Leon Shamroy; Ed.: Rita Roland; Mus.: Jerry Goldsmith; Cast: Michael York (Darley),  Anouk Aimée (Justine), Dirk Bogarde (Pursewarden), Robert Forster (Narouz), Anna Karina (Melissa), Philippe Noiret (Pombal), John Vernon (Nessim), George Baker (Mountolive) et Severn Darden (Balthazar). Disponible pour visionnement sur Youtube. stars-3-0

[ AmazonIMDbRTWikipediaYoutube ]

Les Durrells

Toutefois, ce qui est vraiment intéressant (et amusant) dans cette expérience de lecture, c’est ce qui m’a fait découvrir Lawrence Durrell — et toute sa famille. Car, à une exception près, ce sont tous des auteurs publiés que j’ai découvert en regardant sur PBS la série télé de la ITV Les Durrells à Corfou (The Durrells). Cette série télé de vingt-six épisodes relate les mésaventures (parfois loufoques) de la famille durant un séjour de quatre ans (1935–1939) sur l’île grecque de Corfou. 

À la mort de son époux à Dalhousie, en Inde, en 1928, Louisa Durrell décide de déménager sa famille en Angleterre, à Bournemouth (Dorset), en 1932. Mais la famille y est misérable et à l’instigation de l’aîné — Lawrence (Larry), qui suggère qu’un climat tempéré serait plus agréable — elle déménage à nouveau à Corfou en 1935. Lawrence, vingt-trois ans et écrivain en herbe, s’y rend en premier avec son épouse Nancy Myers. Louisa l’y rejoint avec le reste de la famille: Leslie (dix-huit ans, dont l’intérêt se limite à la chasse et aux armes à feux), Margaret (Margo, seize ans et égocentrique, qui s’intéresse surtout aux garçons) et le cadet Gerald (Gerry, dix ans, qui ne s’intéresse qu’aux animaux). Ils seront aidé dans leur aventures par le chauffeur de taxi exubérant Spýros Hakaiópoulos et le médecin, naturaliste et traducteur Theódoros (Théo) Stefanídis. Chose amusante, si Lawrence parle de son séjour à Corfou dans son livre Prospero’s Cell, il y mentionne à peine la présence de sa famille. À l’opposé, Gerry, dans sa Trilogie de Corfou, ne mentionne jamais la présence de Nancy, la femme de Lawrence, ce qui fait qu’elle n’apparait pas dans la série télé… Avec le début de la deuxième guerre mondiale et l’invasion imminente de la Grèce par les Allemands, la famille retourne en Angleterre en 1939. Lawrence et Nancy, quant à eux, fuient à Alexandrie en 1941.

La série télé est très amusante et divertissante. Je la recommande chaudement. 

TheDurrells-dvdThe Durrells: UK, 2016-2019, 4 seasons de 6 episodes; Dir.: Steve Barron & Roger Goldby; Scr.: Simon Nye (basée sur la Trilogie de Corfou par Gerald Durrell); Phot.: Julian Court, James Aspinall; Mus.: Ruth Barrett; Prod.: Christopher Hall; Cast: Keeley Hawes (Louisa), Milo Parker (Gerry), Josh O’Connor (Larry), Daisy Waterstone (Margo); Callum Woodhouse (Leslie), Alexis Georgoulis (Spiros), Anna Savva (Lugaretzia), Yorgos Karamihos (Theo), Leslie Caron (Countess Mavrodaki), Ulric von der Esch (Sven), et James Cosmo (Captain Creech). stars-3-5

[ AmazonGEMIMDbNelliganOfficialPBSRTWikipedia ]

En plus de l’oeuvre prolifique de Lawrence Durrell (dont Citrons acides qui relate son séjour à Chypre), son frère Gerald a écrit plusieurs ouvrage sur son travail de naturaliste et de conservationniste (il a pour ainsi dire réinventé le concept moderne du zoo) mais il est surtout connu pour sa “Trilogie de Corfou” (Ma famille et autres animaux publié en 1956 [Nelligan], Oiseaux, bêtes et grande personnes publié en 1969 et Le jardin des dieux publié en 1978) qui relate avec beaucoup d’humour le séjour de la famille en Grèce et a inspiré la série télé.  Même sa soeur Margaret a écrit un livre sur la pension de famille qu’elle a tenu à Bournemouth après le retour de Grèce, intitulé Whatever happened to Margo? [Nelligan], écrit dans les années ’60 et publié par sa petite-fille en 1995 (qui a retrouvé le manuscrit dans le grenier). Je vais m’efforcer de lire quelques uns de ces ouvrages et de les commenter plus tard…

À noter aussi que le 11 mars 1968 Lawrence Durrell a été interviewé à Radio-Canada sur l’émission Le Sel de la Semaine, animée par Fernand Seguin. L’entrevue est disponible sur les archives de Radio-Canada, sur Youtube et sur DVD [Nelligan]. On la décrit ainsi: “Lors de son passage au «Sel de la semaine», l’écrivain dévoile la source de son inspiration pour son chef-d’oeuvre [«Quatuor d’Alexandrie»]. L’animateur le questionne d’abord sur son parcours inusité, sur son enfance, sa carrière diplomatique, sa discipline d’écriture, ses rencontres, entre autres sa rencontre déterminante avec l’Américain Henry Miller”. C’est fort intéressant d’entendre l’auteur lui-même parler de sa vie et de son oeuvre.

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Quelques lectures à venir

J’ai récemment fait la découverte de quelques titres que je vais m’empresser de me procurer à la bibliothèque afin de les lire (et possiblement commenter) le plus rapidement possible.

Kebek-2-covD’abord, j’ai découvert que le tome deux de Kébek par Philippe Gauckler allait finalement paraître le 14 janvier 2021. J’ai déjà commenté le premier tome et j’ignore si l’histoire se terminera avec le deuxième ou si elle nécessitera un troisième (ce qui aiderait à ne pas trop précipiter le récit). Le titre de ce deuxième tome sera “Adamante” mais aucun descriptif n’est disponible pour l’instant. J’espère qu’il ne tardera pas trop à traverser l’Atlantique car j’ai très hâte de le lire…

Kebek: t. 2: Adamante, par Philippe Gauckler. Ed. Daniel Maghen, 96 pages. 19,00 € / $C 39.95. ISBN 978-2-35674-084-7. À paraître le 14 janvier 2021. [ Google ]

Je viens à peine de finalement mettre la main sur le volume six de Isabella Bird que je découvre que le sept est déjà paru en Europe depuis le début décembre ! Celui-là va certainement prendre quelques mois avant de nous parvenir…

J’attend également avec impatience le Pline #9: L’Opium d’Andromaque, qui est paru fin Octobre, et qui devrait atteindre nos rivages d’ici la mi-janvier (selon Les Libraires) — en espérant qu’il n’y ai pas trop de délais avant qu’il soit disponible en bibliothèque…

J’aimerais bien aussi lire le Cesare #13. L’auteur avait fait une longue pause en 2014 et avait reprit la production en 2018 pour le volume 12 (paru en France en janvier 2020 et déjà commenté). Fuyumi Soryo a par la suite remit le manga sur pause à nouveau… et aurait reprit le travail à l’automne 2019 mais le volume treize n’est toujours pas paru…

Bambi-covJ’ai récemment découvert que l’histoire originale de Bambi a été republiée avec des illustrations du célèbre dessinateur de livre pour enfants Benjamin Lacombe. Considéré comme un conte pour enfant (9 à 12 ans) à cause du film de Disney ce livre est actuellement un roman animalier pour adulte écrit par Félix Salten, un auteur autrichien, en 1923 mais qui “fut interdit et brûlé par les nazis qui y décelaient “une allégorie politique sur le traitement des juifs en Europe”. Les éléments symboliques sont nombreux tout en restant discrets (…)” [Paris-Match #3733, p. 33]. Je suis donc curieux de revisiter cette histoire…

Bambi, par Félix Salten, illustré par Benjamin Lacombe. Paris: Albin Michel, novembre 2020. 176 pgs. 22.7 x 30.7 cm, 29.90 € / $C 44.95. ISBN 9782226450210. [ AmazonGoogleBeDethèqueGoodreadsWorldCat ]

Les superbes adaptions de Lovecraft par Gou Watanabe se poursuivent chez Ki-oon avec L’Appel de Cthulhu (qui est paru en Septembre, cette fois avec une couverture rouge). Je l’ai réservé à la bibliothèque et m’y attèlerai dès que je le reçois ! Mais cela ne s’arrête pas là, puisque Ki-oon annonce déjà Celui qui hantait les ténèbres pour mars 2021 (avec une couverture verte) !

J’attend toujours aussi Olympia Kyklos par Mari Yamazaki (Casterman, vol. 1/4, 15,95 $, 200 pages, ISBN 9782203202986) qui devait paraître en juin 2020 mais qui semble avoir été retardé à cause de la COVID et paraîtra plutôt en mars 2021. C’est une comédie du style de Thermae Romae mais avec des grecs. [ MangaNewsGoogleAmazon ]

Même si j’ai été plutôt déçu par le premier volume de Ad Romam (commenté récemment), j’ai tout de même l’intention de lire le tome deux que j’ai déjà réservé à la bibliothèque… Par simple curiosité…

J’ai déjà sur ma table de chevet Aliss de Patrick Sénécal / Jerk Dion publié chez Alire (en collaboration avec Studio Lounak). Mais cela m’apparait un peu heavy donc je vais probablement attendre un peu avoir de le lire…

J’ai aussi réservé pour ma femme à la bibliothèque la BD biographique Les Étoiles de l’Histoire t.3: Brigitte Bardot (Dupuis, mai 2020, 136 pages, ISBN 9791034749133, 12+). Comme BB était l’une des idoles de mon adolescence (je me demande bien pourquoi) je vais probablement en profiter pour la lire aussi…

Voici encore quelques titres que j’ai l’intention de lire dans les prochains mois (dès que disponibles):

DernierEnvolDuPapillon-COvEt j’en passe… Il y a plusieurs titre en cours / en attente de lecture sur ma table de chevet (Justine par Laurence Durrell, La lanterne de Nyx vol. 1-2 par Kan Takahama, Le dernier envol du papillon aussi par Kan Takahama, The Hound and other stories par Gou Tanabe chez Dark Horse ainsi que plusieurs périodiques — Solaris, dBD, Animeland) et plusieurs autres déjà lus qui attendent d’être commenté (Histoires Courtes d’Aoi Makino, Les frères Karamazov chez Kuro-Savoir, Les fleurs de la Mer Égée par Akame Hinoshita, Isabella Bird #6, Mariko Parade par Boilet et Takahama, Terre Errante par Liu Cixin — tiens, un roman!, La librairie de tous les possibles par Shinsuke Yoshitake, Tokyo, amour et libertés par Kan Takahama, et Nos compagnons par Jiro Taniguchi).

Cela me fera beaucoup de lectures et beaucoup de pain sur la planche! Il va me falloir essayer de regarder moins de télé, ce qui sera sans doute difficile car beaucoup de nouvelles séries intéressantes devraient se pointer en 2021. Sur ce sujet d’ailleurs j’ai aussi découvert que l’une de mes série anime fétiche, Kimagure Orange Road, est maintenant disponible sur RetroCrush ! J’ai aussi débuté le visionnement de la cinquième saison de la sublime série The Expense ainsi que de la nouvelle série Raised by Wolves — dont le sujet est une guerre de religion entre les Athées et les adeptes de Mithra qui se poursuit sur une planète désolée après que les derniers survivants de l’humanité y ait trouvé refuge. Pour épargner la sensibilité des croyants, il semble que le récit ait été placé dans le futur d’un monde alternatif où le culte de Mithra a prédominé sur les autres (dans NOTRE réalité il a éventuellement été absorbé par le culte de Sol Invictus au IIIe siècle avant d’être définitivement supplanté par le christianisme au IVe siècle mais a en quelque sorte survécu à travers le manichéisme et le zoroastrisme). 

Aussi Doctor Who (série 13) devrait reprendre le 1er janvier, A Discovery of Witches (S2) le 9 janvier, Real Time with Bill Maher (S19) le 15 janvier, Batwoman (S2) le 17 janvier, Euphoria (spécial #2) le 24 janvier, For All mankind (S2) le 19 février, When calls the Heart le 21 février, The Walking Dead (S10) le 28 février, sans compter le film Dune annoncé pour le 1er octobre, The Mandalorian (S3) pour le 25 décembre, un quatrième film de The Matrix (pour décembre également) ou encore les séries télé de Foundation, Lords of the rings, McMafia (S2), His Dark Materials (S3), Gentleman Jack (S2), Star Trek Discovery (S4), Outlander (S6), Westworld (S4), Call the Midwife (S10), Lost in Space (S3), The Morning Show (S2), Carnival Row (S2), Emily in Paris (S2), Star Trek: Picard (S2), un remake de Shōgun (!) et les multiples spin-off de Star Wars qui n’ont pas encore de dates annoncées! Wow! Où vais-je trouver le temps de lire ?

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Ghost in the Shell: Arise

>> Please, read the warning for possible spoilers <<

GITS Arise 1: Ghost Pain

GITS-Arise-1“World War IV is over, but a bomb has gone off in Newport City, killing a major arms dealer who may have ties with the mysterious 501 Organization.” [Text from Netflix, see also the Japanese trailer]

In the first episode (June 2013, 58 min.), we discover the Major when she is still in the military. As she comes back to Japan, she must do an investigation on the possible corruption of her deceased superior officer as well as on his murder. She discover that she is much more involved that she would have thought. In the course of her investi­­gation, she encounters Aramaki, who offers her a job as consultant. This episode, as well as the whole series, offer us the origin story of the Major and the Section 9. It is quite an interesting story and the animation is pretty good (not as much as the movies, of course).

GITS Arise 2: Ghost Whisperers

GITS-Arise-2“Freed of her responsibilities for the 501 Organization, Motoko must now learn how to take orders from Aramaki.” [Text from Netflix, see also the Japanese trailer]

In the second episode (November 2013, 56 min.), we find again a story where the military are being scapegoated and seek revenge for it — but they are actually being manipulated. The Major is told to assemble a team but it might be hard to chose the members… As always, it is a nice cyberpunk story with great animation.

GITS Arise 3: Ghost Tears

GITS-Arise-3“As Motoko and Batou attempt to thwart a mysterious terrorist group, Togusa tracks the killer of a man with a prosthetic leg made by Mermaid’s Leg.” [Text from Netflix, see also the Japanese trailer]

In the third episode (June 2014, 58 min.), the Major has assembled a team composed of her recent “adversaries”, but they are still just a bunch of mercenaries working for Section 9. And she is still missing a member to fit with Aramaki’s requirement. This a story of foreign terrorists using technology to move their ideology forward. The Logicoma (a bigger and less advanced version of the Tachicoma) are interacting more with the team. The theme of artificial intelligence is, as always, omnipresent.

This series (and this episode in particular) shows us a more personal side of the Major as she has a boyfriend. She is shown as being more vulnerable as she is getting often infected by viruses. Both in episodes one and three, she gets personally involved with the subject of her investigation. Also, having a personal relationship is a weakness that enemies can exploit. I guess, with time, she will learn from her mistake and become the more hardened, distant and cold Motoko that we know in the rest of the franchise. Your real enemy is often closer than you might think… This is a really interesting story with good animation. It is certainly a must-see for all Ghost in the Shell fans.

Strangely, this OVA series has five episodes but Netflix has been  streaming only three of them — go figure why. The two other episodes are “Ghost Stands Alone” (September 2014, see Japanese trailer) and “Pyrophoric Cult” (August 2015, see Japanese trailer). The series was also adapted into a TV series (titled GITS: Arise – Alternative Architecture) and completed by a movie (GITS: Arise – The New Movie, which concludes the plot of episode 5) and a manga (GITS: Arise ~Sleepless Eye~ which was published in Monthly Young Magazine between April 2013 and June 2016, was compiled in seven volumes and tells how Batou and the Major met during the civil war).

I suspect the series was titled “Arise” because it is about the origin story of both the Major and Section 9. All in all, it is a good cyberpunk story, compelling storytelling, full of socio-political background typical of the rest of the franchise. It is well worth watching if you are either an anime fan or a cyberpunk aficionado.

Data File

Ghost in the Shell: Arise (攻殻機動隊 ARISE / Kōkaku Kidōtai Araizu / Mobile Armored Riot Police: Arise): Japan, 2013-2015, OVA anime, 5 x 50 min.; Dir. / Char. Des.: Kazuchika Kise; Scr.: Tow Ubukata; Music: Cornelius; Studio: Production I.G. Cast: Maaya Sakamoto / Elizabeth Maxwell (Major Motoko Kusanagi), Ikyuu Jyuku / John Swasey (Aramaki), Kenichiro Matsuda / Christopher Sabat (Batou), Yoji Ueda / Jason Douglas (Paz), Tarusuke Shingaki / Alex Organ (Togusa), Takuro Nakakuni / Marcus Stimac (Saito), Mayumi Asano / Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (Kurutsu), Atsushi Miyauchi / Brian Mathis (Mamuro), Masahiro Mamiya / Chris Rager (Ibachi), Kenji Nojima / Eric Vale (Tsumugi), Takanori Hoshino / David Wald (Raizo), Miyuki Sawashiro / Jad Saxton (Logicoma).stars-3-0

For more information you can consult the following web sites:

[ AmazonANNGoogleIMDbNetflixOfficialWikipedia ]

Also, you can check the official trailer on Youtube:

© 士郎正宗・Production I.G / 講談社・「攻殻機動隊ARISE」製作委員会

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Capsules

Ghost in the Shell: SAC_2045

Ghost-in-the-Shell_SAC-2045_Main-PosterWhen sustainable war spawns a “post-human” threat, Major Kusanagi and her Section 9 team are called back into action.

In the year 2045, after an economic disaster known as the Synchronized Global Default, rapid developments in AI propelled the world to enter a state of “Sustainable War”. However, the public is not aware of the threat that AI has towards the human race.

Full-body cyborg Major Motoko Kusanagi and her second-in-command Batou are former members of Public Security Section 9, who are now hired mercenaries traveling hot devastated American west coast. This land is full of opportunity for the major and her team, they utilize their enhanced cyberbrains and combat skills from their time working in Section 9. However, things get complicated with the emergence of “post humans,” who have extreme intelligence and physical powers. The members of Section 9 comeback together again in order to face this new threat.

[Text from the official website]

>> Please, read the warning for possible spoilers <<

Anime Story

At the end of the Stand Alone Complex TV series, Section 9 is disbanded. In this series, the team has become a mercenary unit named GHOST that operated outside Japan (mostly in the United States) for the last six years. The only former member that didn’t joined GHOST was Togusa. He hesitated because of his family and later regretted the decision. He eventually divorced and found a job at a private security company. The Prime Minister asks Aramaki to reform Section 9 and Togusa is put in charge of locating his former colleagues.

After a failed mission where they were defending a one-percenter against the attack of a group of outlaws, the GHOST team is kidnapped by the NSA who want to use them in a mission to capture Patrick Huge, the rich owner of a tech company. The target reveals itself as a formidable opponent that can anticipate their move and even hack their cyberbrains. As the Major is about to be taken over, Saito terminate Huge. Smith is furious because he wanted him taken alive in order to study him. He explains that Huge was what the NSA calls a “Post-Human.” So far, humans have improved themselves with cyberbrains and cyber-implants. However, the post-humans are the opposite: A.I. which somehow have succeeded in taking over the brain of humans and therefore represent an unprecedented threat to humanity. Unfortunately, Smith consider the GHOST team as a liability and want to eliminate them. He is stopped by Aramaki who arrives in extremis with new orders from the American President. The new Section 9 mission will be to hunt post-humans.

It’s episode 8 and the real story finally begins. The team is back in Japan after six years (Batou came back a few days earlier but got entangled in a bank robbery). There are three post-humans that have been identified in Japan. One is an ex-boxer who seems to have a grudge against corrupt politicians. He kills the Prime Minister’s father-in-law and then goes after Teito himself but stops short of killing him (maybe he felt that he was a good man?). The next post-humans to be identified is a teenager that wrote a program creating mob justice. As they are investigating his story, Togusa get infected by some of his code and disappears! Will he becomes a post-human too? To be continued… in the second season (another twelve episodes, directed this time by Shinji Aramaki, but no release date has been announced yet).

>> End of Warning <<

I’ve mentioned this series recently and was eager to have a look — although I was sure that I would totally dislike its 3D animation. Yes, a few aspects of the CGI are quite awkward — the movements of the characters seem sometimes odd despite that fact that it’s motion capture animation and some character’s hair, mostly Aramaki’s and Tokusa’s — but the 3D quickly grow on you and you eventually even forget that it’s there as you focus on the action and the story. The character designs (by a Russian artist) are faithful and pleasant (the Major sure looks like a doll!) and the storytelling is excellent: well paced and captivating. My favourite part is that, as usual with Ghost in the Shell, the cyberpunk background world (socio-political setting, technology, etc.) is quite superb. 

Interestingly, the story seems inspired by the work of transhumanist Ray Kurzweils, who predicted that the A.I. singularity would occur in 2045. One element of the story that differ from the previous series, which are generally nippo-centric, is that the first half is set in the United States (which has experience some sort of civil war again). Also, when I watched the series on Netflix, no dubbed version was available yet because the coronavirus lock-down has delayed production (I am more of a subtitles guy anyway). 

So far, this new Stand Alone Complex series seems not much appreciated by the critics, considering the very average ratings that it is receiving (6.0 on IMDb, 47% on Rotten Tomatoes, and C+ on ANN). Anime fans are probably irked by the 3D animation. Too bad for them. It is an excellent anime, well worth watching. It is entertaining, an appropriate continuation of the franchise and, despite my initial misgivings, quite beautiful. A must see for any anime, cyberpunk or Ghost in the Shell fans. stars-4-0

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Continue reading

GITS: Stand Alone Complex 2nd GIG

Anime Story

2004 was a great year for theatrical anime releases in Japan. It brought us Hayao Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle, Katsuhiro Otomo’s Steamboy and, of course, Mamoru Oshii’s Ghost In The Shell 2: Innocence. However, most of the Japanese anime industry’s production, and what really sustains it, remains the television series, like Gundam Seed, Fullmetal Alchemist, and yes, Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex. 

SAC-2gig-logoGhost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex was a big hit in 2003 and Japanese DVD sales did great, so the creative team at Production I.G. decided to bring out a second season (titled “2nd Gig”). Now fans can look forward to another 26 episodes of cyber-political intrigue and action. 

Sac-2gig-illo11I can easily imagine that director Kenji Kamiyama was under a great deal of stress, with his work being compared with Mamoru Oshii’s Innocence, and to meet the fans’ expectations after the first season! Despite the high stakes, the young director was up to the task and I think he did a marvellous job. The “2nd Gig” is even better and more intriguing than the first season. He succeeded totally in creating his own world, telling the story in his own personal style, and we don’t even feel the need to compare his series with Oshii’s movie. Each has its own merit. 

Kamiyama not only respected Masamune Shirow’s original manga, but he gave it life by detailing, even more so than Oshii’s movies did, its near-futuristic setting defined by the interaction of humanity and technology in a complex Asian geo-political environment. His strong, captivating storytelling is very well supported by the superb animation, the beautiful and elaborate artwork and an enchanting soundtrack. It is so great to see that there is such a great new talent in Japan, able to create a serious and intelligent story that can both entertain our senses and stimulate our mind. It is not surprising that both seasons of the TV series have received a great deal of acclaim, not only from anime fans, but also from those who seek serious science fiction shows. 

SAC16-illoASAs the “2nd Gig” starts, Section 9, which had been dissolved at the end of the 1st season, is resuming its job as an anti-cyberterrorist mobile unit. Although the team has returned, their work isn’t easy, and many difficulties lie ahead of them. The Japanese political landscape is changing and the government is keeping a close eye on their special police. The “Laughing Man” case might be solved, but it doesn’t take long for another terrorist organization, “The Individual Eleven,” to show up. Who are they? Are they the result of another “Stand Alone Complex”? They seem to be stirring up an uprising against the Asian immigrants and refugees. Could it be that simple? But some other politically-motivated forces seem to be at work. Can Major Motoko Kusanagi and her team unravel the complex overlapping political plots before they affect the nature of the government? 

Technology might be omnipresent in Stand Alone Complex, but it is not overwhelming. In the “2nd Gig,” Director Kamiyama and Production I.G. keep an even greater focus on the human side of the story by exploring the characters’ hearts and emotions — even in the case of some of the terrorists. Each key member of Section 9 has a dedicated episode where we learn more about their past and personality. It is not done simply to paint a richer background; every single bit of information has its meaning. They also give a more humane face to the government (more likeable than the usual fat, corrupt, old minister) with the new Japanese prime minister, a young, good-looking lady who embodies the beauties (and sometime ineptitudes) of democracy. In contrast, there is the ugly face of Gohda, a shady character who embodies the threat of militarism. Also, the intelligent Tachikoma robots (their name means “standing, spinning top”) are back with a new, expanded sidekick role (definitely inspired by Motoko’s cute “helper” programs in the Man-Machine Interface manga). With their cute voices and comical comments, they give a human feel to the technology. 

SAC14-illoASThe terrorism and the Asian refugees’ problems seem to be an allusion to the Palestinian question and to some conspiracy theories that surfaced after 9/11 in Europe and in Japan (such as, American right wing groups being behind 9/11 in order to justify military action abroad and domestically limit civil liberties). But it is only used to emphasize the fact that, even in the future, terrorism — the favorite style of warfare of the 21st Century — is still omnipresent and we still haven’t found a way to deal with it. Despite all the advanced technology, humanity is still facing tremendous problems (war, pollution, corruption, poverty, overpopulation, crime). Nothing changes, and even the future’s future is still uncertain. Is there a solution to the crisis? Is there a possibility for us humans to be saved? The answer in “2nd Gig” might be in the origami cranes that appear in some episodes and that symbolize the prayers for peace and salvation. All we can do is, like Section 9, act with courage and determination (even if it means going against the rules sometimes), pray and hope for the best! 

In conclusion, “2nd GIG” is even better than the first season. While still very political, dealing with terrorism and immigration problems, it also elaborates on more of the personal history of each of the main characters, including Major Kusanagi. The cyberpunk political intrigue is at moments a little complex, but it is the most intelligent anime series I have ever seen and it is superbly animated. It’s not all action, there’s also drama — and I did cry a few times. A real masterpiece! Of course, such an exceptionally excellent anime series cannot be seen only on TV. SAC-2gig-ratingsYou have to purchase the DVD to watch it over and over again, to enjoy all the minute details of this superb animation and share the experience with your friends! And if after that you want more, the series was followed by a movie: Solid State Society. 

> Please, read the warning for possible spoilers <<

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Ghost in the shell: Stand Alone Complex (anime)

Overview

GITS-SAC-logoWith the TV version of Ghost in the Shell (Kokaku Kidotai) director Kenji Kamiyama (and his production team — including the full support of original creator Shirow Masamune) is bringing a new dimension to the standard police detective drama adding a techno-cyberpunk flavour. Not only is this a very high quality show visually (HD full-digital screen to satisfy even the most hard-core fan!), but it is also full of exciting, intelligent storytelling. You can see that the writers really put forward their best efforts to attract viewers. 

SAC-KusunagiCCThe story is set in a future Tokyo populated with high-tech doohickeys, and lots of cyborgs and androids. Fans of Ghost in the Shell find out immediately that this story is quite different from the manga or games. It’s a kind of alternate world created for the TV series, closer to what was already developed for the movie. The manga is funny and set in a fictitious future (lots of made-up names) where Section 9 is an international anti-terrorist unit. The TV series’ setting feels less like a militaristic anti-terrorist outfit and more like a special police force dealing with cyber crimes. It is more serious and more realistic. Nevertheless, like the movie, which was based mostly on the manga, the TV series is using bits and pieces of the manga’s story. We could consider the TV series as a prequel to the movie, whereas the new manga, Man-Machine Interface, is the direct sequel of the original manga. 

GHSill02RSo what do they mean by “Stand Alone Complex”? It could mean that the series is mostly made of stand alone episodes (self contained stories), with a few more complex episodes (the “Laughing Man” story arc). However, episode 6 also provides another explanation: it refers to the fact that Laughing Man’s imitators are independent copycats, created without an original. To me it seems that Production I.G.’s writers want to make the point that “It’s extremely difficult and almost impossible today to stand alone in this complex society of computers and networks.” Each episode throws enormous amounts of technical information and detail about computers, science and politics for the viewer to digest. At first, for an average nincompoop like myself, the contents of this show can be too much, but with a bit of patience it’s certainly educational. I think, in a way, it’s charming to see so much information on technology. Compared to ordinary anime shows, the amount of dialogue and information is quite huge. 

You really have to sit down and watch this TV show over and over again to catch the small details and to understand better. In this respect it shares much in common with its source, the manga. On the other hand, despite all this, the show can also be watched as an intelligent police/detective drama. The viewers can try to solve crimes with Section 9 members and get great satisfaction to see the conclusion of each cyber-crimes case. But don’t think that the show is as slow paced as the film — there is still a lot of action! 

SAC-illo02The characters seem to be like normal humans, but in fact most of them are cyborgs (or with some sort of cybernetic enhancement). I wonder if, in the near future, when humans begin to replace body-parts to improve their lives and live more comfortably, we’ll have different kinds of crimes? It’s the same type of premise as in Patlabor : if technology takes us there, the nature of crime will change. Of course we’re all human, but how in the world can we live and “stand” with our own personalities in this extremely complex society of the future? In this show, all criminals are making statements of a kind (politically, individually or otherwise). 

SAC01-03This is certainly a strong series evolved from speculative fiction, with excellent (and exotic Russian sounding) music by Yoko Kannno (Cowboy Bebop, Escaflowne and Macross Plus) and viewers will enjoy this full-action crime fighting anime! In our opinion, this series clearly shows one thing: good writing and storytelling make a great difference! There are many shows with high quality visuals, but with weak stories. Ghost in the Shell is one of the best shows to come down the road in the last few years and hearkens back to a period where stories and strong characters were the main focus. I’d like to send out enthusiastic applause to the creators of this show! 

Despite its high quality animation and intelligent story, the show has a few annoying details: the original opening is much better than the 3D one which starts with episode 3 and there are some technical impossibilities (like the cloaking devices which are not consistent with those in the movie). 

SAC08-02This anime won’t disappoint you — in fact, you’ll be totally hooked! A must see show that I’d recommend to anyone. In order to understand the TV series a bit better it is recommended to have seen the movie or read the manga (you would already know the characters and technological background), but you will probably manage anyway if you just dive straight in (you’ll find some helpful information, right after the jump). The series was very well received with critics’ rating of 8.5 on IMDb and of 67% / 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. Enjoy !

>> Please, read the warning for possible spoilers <<

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