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Friday, January 30, 2009

Sōseki: Ten Nights' Dreams - The First Dream

This is the dream I dreamed.

As I was sitting with my arms folded by her pillow, the woman lying on her back said in a quiet voice that she would die. Her long hair covered the pillow and the soft outline of her oval face lay down inside it. Deep in her pure white cheeks was a slight flush the color of warm blood. The color of her lips was, of course, red. She didn’t possibly look like she could die. But clearly, she had said in that quiet voice that she would soon die. Naturally I thought, don’t die. Then I peered down into her from above and asked, is that so? You’re going to die soon?

I will die, she said as she opened her eyes wide. They were large, moist eyes. Wrapped in long lashes was a mere surface of pure black. In the depths of those pure black pupils my form floated vividly.

I gazed at the luster of those dark pupils, so deep they were almost transparent, and thought, even so, could she die? Gently, I brought my lips to the side of her pillow and said, I don’t think you’re going to die. I’m sure everything’s fine. Her sleepy black eyes opened wide, she then said in that same quiet voice, but I will die, there’s no escaping it.

Can you see my face then? I asked intensely. Can I see? There, in there, it’s being reflected, isn’t it? she said, showing me her smile. I fell quiet, and withdrew my face from her pillow. With my arms folded, I wondered if she would die after all.

After a time she again spoke.

When I die, please bury me. Dig a hole with a large oyster shell. Then take a fragment of a star that has fallen from heaven and place it as a grave marker. And then, please, wait by my grave because I will come back to see you.

I asked her when she would come back.

The sun rises, doesn’t it? And then it sets. And doesn’t it then rise and set again the red sun while it goes from east to west? Can you wait while it falls from east to west?

I said nothing and nodded.

The quiet tone of her voice rose and she boldly said, please wait one hundred years.

Please sit and wait by my grave for one hundred years, for without fail I will come back to see you.

I’ll just be waiting, I replied. Then the form that I saw clearly in her black pupils started to faintly come apart. Like still water that moves and disturbs a reflection, she thought it would leak out and snapped her eyes shut. From between her long eyelashes tears trickled down her cheek: she had died.

After that I descended to the garden and dug a hole with an oyster shell. It was a large shell, with a smooth, sharp edge. With each scoop light from the moon would sparkle on the back of the shell. There was also the smell of moist earth. A hole was hollowed out after some time. I put her in there. Then I gently scattered soft earth from above. Each time I scattered the earth, light from the moon shone on the back of the oyster shell.

Then I picked up a fragment of star that had fallen and gently set it on top of the earth. The fragment was round. When it had fallen through the heavens, I thought, the corners must have come off and it became smooth. While I was lifting it up in my arms and placing it on top of the earth my chest and hands became a little warmer.

I sat on moss. I folded my arms and stared at the round grave stone, all the while thinking about how I would be waiting like this for the next hundred years. Soon, just like she had said, the sun appeared from the east. It was a large, red sun. And again, just like she had said, it soon fell to the west. Just as red, it suddenly fell away. I counted one.

I waited a while and again the crimson sun slowly started to rise. Then it quietly sank. Again I counted, two.

I wasn’t sure how many times I saw the red sun while I was counting one and two this way. A nearly inexhaustible number of red suns passed over my head no matter how many I counted. But even so, a hundred years would still not come. At last, I stared at the round rock covered in moss, and the thought that she might have deceived me came to mind.

Just then, from under the rock, a green stem started to stretch out diagonally toward me. I watched as it grew longer, until it stopped around my chest. I thought it had stopped, but at the top of the smoothly swaying stem, a single long, thin bud, slightly bent, softly opened its petals. A pure white lily at the tip of my nose gave off a fragrance that seeped into my bones. From far above dewdrops fell, causing the flower to waver unsteadily under its own weight. I moved my head forward and kissed the white petals dripping wet with cool dew. At the moment I pulled my face from the lily, unthinking, I looked at the distant sky and a single morning star was twinkling.

This was the moment I first realized that one hundred years had finally passed.

(Natsume Sōseki, translation by Chris Pearce)

My comment:

It is interesting that this Japanese story calls into my mind Chinese wisdom. Says Tom Vick, the fundamental tenet of Taoism is that the natural world operates in a patterned, harmonious manner (Tao, the Way), and it is our duty as humans to understand and find a place in it (Asian Cinema). I think however that this dream says perhaps something close to the meaning of Tao while slightly different. It is about the way to arrive to live within Cosmos, to be no more distinct. And then the hundred years are no more, there is no more past or future, you are within Eternity.

You count the sun dawn, one, you watch it going from East to West, you count the sunset, two, and again, and again, till you do not know any more whether it is the Sun that walks East to West, or you are going West to East, one, then two, and again, one, then two. By then it does not matter anymore, motion and stillness are the same, and you are no more an individual with past and future, because past and future are no more.

I spoke some time ago about the movie made by Kimsooja that I saw at Hirshhorn, and I intend to speak about a movie of Kiarostami, Five Dedicated to Ozu. This First Dream of Sōseki helped me a lot to deepen my understanding.


(The Thousand faces of HANAFUBUKI)

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The Dream of Matt

I watched a couple of years ago the Dreams of Kurosawa, and I wanted to write on the blog something about, also on Ten Nights of Dreams by Sōseki, which are fabulous.

I decided to start with this video, authored by Matt (friends call him also Mat, so it's up2u).

It is a gorgeous video. Matt has definitely what we call esprit de finesse. His eyes see subtle details that we do not observe, and all he sees is rendered with a great sense of balance for the whole.

There is also another thing: the passion Matt has for the great masters of cinema; this video was created by him having in mind some images from movies by Tarkovsky and perhaps Wajda (think at Brzezina), or maybe from other movies that had followed the same path. And so the images in this video belong to the same world of the masters, speak the same language, use the same words.

I would say only one word of warning: there is a risk of narcissism in the video. Or not? Anyway, it's gorgeous.

(Vlog of Mattie)

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Equinox Flower (1958)

Am inceput un soi de maraton cinematografic, mai precis un maraton Ozu, iar daca vreti sa fiu si mai precis un maraton al ultimelor filme ale lui Ozu.

Un regizor care a creat cateva zeci de filme, incepand cu sfarsitul anilor 20 si pana in anul mortii sale, 1962.

A fost un conservator: in gusturi, in atitudinea fata de traditii, in judecata asupra evolutiei societatii japoneze dupa al doilea razboi mondial. Conservator pana in dinti: s-a incapatanat sa faca filme mute in anii 30 si a trecut greu la filmele sonore. S-a incapatanat sa faca filme alb-negru in anii 50 si s-a lasat convins sa treaca la color de abia spre sfarsitul decadei.

Iar Higanbana (Equinox Flower) este primul sau film color, e facut in 1958.

Am vazut multe din filmele lui si m-au inmarmurit de fiecare data. Am vazut unul din filmele lui mute si am ramas inmarmurit in fata puritatii unui film fara vorbe. In schimb filmele lui sonore isi pastreaza puritatea, dar dialogul este superb. Marile lui filme au fost alb-negru - iar fiecare imagine din filmele lui este superb construita. Ei bine, primul lui film color era o bucurie a ochilor. O explozie de frumusete.

Asadar Ozu a fost conservator in toate; insa a fost un om extrem de intelegator, de tolerant, de bun. Asa incat judecarea de catre el a schimbarilor care se petreceau in Japonia acelor ani era o judecata ingaduitoare in care condamnarea noului in numele vechiului era inlocuita de o nostalgie luminoasa.

Toate filmele lui de dupa razboi dezbat o singura tema la nesfarsit: schimbarea relatiilor in sanul familiei japoneze, trecerea dela valorile traditionale la valorile de azi.

Este si subiectul lui Equinox Flower: un tata de familie aratandu-se in discutiile cu ceilalti foarte ingaduitor cu noua atitudine a tinerilor care nu mai vor sa auda de ca casatorii aranjate. Evident, cand afla in mod neasteptat ca fata lui cea mare vea sa se marite cu un om pe care il iubeste, treaba se schimba si tatal devine un tiran. Intre timp mai este vizitat de un prieten (Chishu Ryu), care a patit-o: fata s-a mutat cu iubitul ei! Stiu ca zambiti, dar sutnem in Tokio in anul 1958.

Este insa o comedie blanda: mama, fata, sora ei, prietena ei, mama prieteni ei, comploteaza pe ascuns si il duc pe tata acolo unde vor ele. De fapt baiatul pe care fata il iubeste este un baiat foarte bun, pe care si l-ar dori oricine ca ginere. E drept ca nu e bogat si ca se va muta la Hiroshima, lunad deci fata departe. Dar e un baiat sa il pui la rana.

Nu este unul din marile filme ale lui Ozu. Insa vaznadu-l, mi-am aminiti de ceva ce am observat in picturile lui Hopper, marele maestru realist american al primei jumatati de secol XX.

Hopper a zugravit in panzele lui lumea new-yorkeza (a avut si alte subiecte, but let's stick to the point). Din cand in cand a observat lucruri extraoridnare. Dar astea nu apareau mereu. A fost fidel lumii lui, a urmarit-o cu dragoste, i-a cercetat detaliile si din cand in cand a spus in panzele lui lucruri extraordinare.

The Nighthawks este considerata capodopera lui, dar pentru a ne da Nighthawks a desenat cu dragoste cele doua femei care stau la o masa langa geam la unul din restaurantele chinezesti din Manhattan, a desenat-o pe femeia care sta ingandurata in fata unei cesti de cafea pe care si-a turnat-o la un automat, a desenat cuplul care este asezat pe scaune la teatru inainte sa se ridice cortina...

La fel si Ozu: cateva lucruri pe care le-a descoperit el in anii aceia, studiind cu dragoste familia japoneza, sunt zuguduitoare si traverseaza toate culturile: dragostea resemnata a parintilor pentru copiii lor ajunsi adulti si instrainati.

Insa pentru ca sa descopere aceste diamante de adevar profund, a studiat rabdator, fara sa oboseasca, lumea aceea din Tokio al anilor cinzeci, in care kimonourile se luptau cu rochiile europene, in care costumul purtat pe strada se arunca pe jos imediat ce ajungeai acasa - nevasta ti-l lua cuminte si il punea pe umeras. Lumea aceea in care existau mici localuri cu mancare foarte japoneza, cu ingrediente a caror reteta avea sa se uite, localuri micute in care barbatii schimbau cate o vorba dand pe gat paharele de sake, baruri care erau inca foarte japoneze dar aveau firmele si in engleza.

(Yasujiro Ozu and Setsuko Hara)

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Alex. Galmeanu: Bucuresti, 1964

Prietenul meu Dan mi-a semnalat un blog extraordinar, al carui autor este artistul Alex. Galmeanu. Sunt acolo imagini fascinante ale Bucurestiului.

Imaginea de mai sus face parte din blog: Alex. Galmeanu prezinta si comenteaza un set de fotografii facute de un american care a fost in Bucuresti in 1964. Mesajul din blog poarta titlul 1964 sau Un american la Bucuresti.


Tokyo Twilight (1957)

Tôkyô boshoku (Tokyo Twilight) - filmul pe care Ozu l-a facut imediat dupa Early Spring, in 1957.

Se indeparteaza dela stilul celorlalte filme. Povestea devine aici in mod explicit mai dramatica, nu mai are acea retinere minimalista care ii face filmele celelalte atat de cehoviene.

Un tata (Chishu Ryu) si-a crescut singur cele doua fete. Acum ele sunt mari. Sora cea mare (Setsuko Hara) este maritata si are un copil de numai cativa ani. Sotul ei, profesor universitar, a inceput sa bea si merge pe panta ratarii. Asa ca ea isi ia copilul si se muta acasa la tatal ei.

Problema mare este insa cu sora cea mica, care ii priveste cu suspiciune pe amandoi, si pe tata, si pe sora mai mare. A abandonat facultatea si a intrat intr-un cerc dubios de prieteni. A ramas gravida, iar iubitul ei se poarta ca un om de nimic. Este decisa sa avorteze, dar trebuie sa faca rost de bani pentru asta, asa ca umbla sa se imprumute. Fireste ca nu le spune nimic nici tatalui, nici surorii.

Ca sa se complice lucrurile si mai mult, mama, care si-a parasit sotul si fetitele cu multi ani in urma si a fugit cu un iubit, apare pe neasteptate. Nu pentru a-si face cumva datoria de mama (nici nu prea mai e posibil, dupa atatia ani), ci pentru a crea tensiune intre ceilalti.

Pentru ca sora mai mica stia ca mama ei murise. Acum nu mai este sigura de nimic, nici macar daca de fapt tatal ei adevarat nu e cumva amantul de demult al mamei. Isi face avortul si, coplesita de mizeria vietii ei, se sinucide.

Filmul se termina in nota Ozu: sora cea mare se decide sa se intoarca la sot (pentru ca isi da seama, din tragedia surorii, ca un copil trebuie crescut de amandoi parintii), iar tatal ramane singur.

Dramatismul povestii imi pare excesiv pentru un film de Ozu. Jocul actorilor este insa la fel de sobru ca intotdeauna, iar atmosfera acelui Tokio al anilor 50 este creata cu aceeasi maiestrie. Toate acele amanunte, acele localuri mititele in care se bea sake si se mananca supa cu fidea, masinile americane din ce in ce mai prezente pe strazi, reclamele in japoneza si engleza, cladirile impozante si impersonale ale bancilor si societatilor de asigurari, casele japoneze dela periferie.

(Yasujiro Ozu and Setsuko Hara)

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Elena del Rivero: Oeil d'âme

Galeria Elvira Gonzalez in Madrid is hosting these days Oeil d'âme: the latest works of Elena del Rivero. The exhibition will close on March 10.

There are several things that impress me in the art of Elena del Rivero: the vision of monumental accomplished through mundane materials, the mix of diaphanous and monumental accomplished by some kind of surrendering to the hazard of space, and the passion she puts in searching a meaning in each piece of shabby paper used in her works. I would say that the works of Elena del Rivero are holistic: each small component contains the whole.

Here is a work by Elena del Rivero that is hosted at MoMA: Unfinished Letter to a Young Daughter.

(Contemporary Art)


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Zakaria and Samuelson about the crisis

Fareed Zakaria and Robert J. Samuelson, among others, express their opinion about the crisis in the most recent issue of Newsweek.

For Fareed Zakaria the most critical aspect is the banking crisis. Says he, we haven't turned the corner on the banking crisis, we can't even see the corner... the American public believes that we have already spent far too much money on bailing out the banks; but the economic fact is that we have not spent enough; without several hundreds of billions of dollars, these organizations will remain zombies and the economy will remain paralyzed.

For Robert J. Samuelson, the most critical aspect is that the crisis is global. He sees three interwoven dimensions: the spending crisis, the lending crisis and the trade crisis. While the first two dimensions could be tackled in principle at national level (by stimulus and rescue politics), the third aspect needs concertation at global level. Says he, as Americans save more of their incomes, Asians should save less, and spend more, to generate growth as opposed to exports. And he concludes, this sort of transformation requires basic political changes in Asia to complement changes in U.S. policies; whether China and other Asian societies can make those changes is unclear; the implications are sobering. The success of Obama's policies lies, to a considerable extent, outside Obama's hands.

Here are the two articles:

1. Fareed Zakaria: There's More To Fear Than Fear

Fareed ZakariaFranklin Delano Roosevelt's first inaugural address is now known for only one sentence: The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. But the audience at the time paid little attention to that line and the newspapers buried it in their reports the next day. As Jonathan Alter recounts in his book The Defining Moment, the words that got the greatest applause were something more specific. I shall ask Congress for the one remaining instrument to meet the crisis, FDR said, broad Executive power to wage war against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were in fact invaded by a foreign foe. The next day's headline in The New York Herald Tribune was FOR DICTATORSHIP IF NECESSARY.

We are not in 1933, and no one would advocate or encourage any such power grab today. But President Barack Obama will have to quickly start planning for a set of more extraordinary measures to pull the United States out of its current, unsustainable economic condition. The president has understandably focused his first few days on important campaign promises—ending torture, closing Guantánamo—but he will now have to tackle the biggest challenge facing the country.

The American economy is entering its sharpest economic contraction since 1974—a recession that is likely to be the longest since the Second World War. But that's not the worst of it. The American financial system is effectively broken. Major banks are moving toward insolvency, and credit activity remains extremely weak. As long as the financial sector remains moribund, American consumers and companies—who collectively make up 80 percent of GDP—will not have access to credit, and economic activity cannot really resume on any significant scale. We have not turned the corner. In fact, we can't even see the corner right now. In Washington and in the media, we have all stopped thinking about the rescue of the financial system—that was last year's story—and moved on to the automobile bailout and now the fiscal stimulus. Debates have begun as to whether programs represent pork or investment, whether tax cuts should be preferred to government spending. But despite the injection of hundreds of billions of dollars, and the promise of many billions more, banks are still not lending. Without a functioning financial system, even a massive stimulus will not restore the economy to a normal growth trajectory. Japan tried to jump-start its economy with the world's largest fiscal stimulus in the 1990s. It did nothing for long-term growth in that country.

What about the actions taken so far? The $700 billion TARP, the various federal guarantees, the Federal Reserve's extraordinary actions? The outgoing administration has plausibly claimed that these have worked—in the sense that the financial system has not imploded. Paul Krugman, no fan of the Bush administration's approach to the crisis, acknowledges, without the bank bailout, the whole system would have collapsed. But the bailout has not solved the problem; banks are still buried under mountains of bad assets. And while the Bush administration has made mistakes—most of them clearer in hindsight—the Obama economic team knows that there is no simple answer to this extraordinarily complex situation. Britain, which was widely lauded for its first set of bank bailouts, appears to have stumbled in a second set of policies last week. This might be the time to recall screenwriter William Goldman's cardinal rule about Hollywood: Nobody knows anything.

And yet the government has to do something. President Obama faces a terrible dilemma. He needs to act quickly and on a massive scale. Part of what has unnerved markets has been the incremental nature of the government's response. Will it bail out this bank or that one? On what terms? A broad systemic approach commits the government to one course—one solution—and does not allow for experimentation. It is also enormously expensive. And yet without large-scale action, the financial system will keep bleeding. The politics of this are even worse. The American public believes that we have already spent far too much money on bailing out the banks. But the economic fact is that we have not spent enough. Without several hundreds of billions of dollars, these organizations will remain zombies and the economy will remain paralyzed.

Speed is also crucial. In U.S. policy-making circles in the 1990s it was customary to deride the Japanese government for its weak response to the bursting of Japan's real-estate and stock-market bubble—which led to more than a decade of economic stagnation. In fact the Japanese took drastic action: they injected capital into their banks, lowered interest rates and undertook a massive fiscal stimulus. But they waited for a couple of years before confronting their problems and that made the measures far less effective. The Federal Reserve has learned its lesson and has moved much faster than did the Bank of Japan. But will the American political system move any faster than the Japanese political system?

There remains a spirited debate over what should be done now. But at its heart everyone seems to agree with former Treasury secretary Hank Paulson's original diagnosis—the problem is that banks have huge amounts of bad assets (related to mortgages) on their books. These assets are toxic because they infect the rest of the banks' balances, making it difficult for them to operate. These assets must be disclosed, written down and quarantined for the financial system to start functioning again.

Some now argue for a national aggregator bank that would buy up all the toxic assets, still others for a set of government guarantees and insurance, others still for outright nationalization of the worst-off institutions. Paulson's January rescue of Citicorp seemed to use TARP money in an effective way, getting a large bang for the buck. Each policy has its merits and drawbacks, and I am not expert enough to judge which is the right approach. But it does appear crucial that the government's response be systemic. Ideologies need to be suspended in this period of crisis—we don't hear much about moral hazard anymore. We might temporarily limit practices that are causing a downward spiral—such as marking assets to market, the practice of forcing banks to keep lowering the price of securities (even those that they do not intend to sell), which then forces them to raise more capital. Overall, the government must send markets a clear signal: it is futile to bet against us; we have unlimited tools at our disposal and will use them; and in the end we will win.

Tackling the banks will not be the end of these problems. As President Obama has often pointed out, until the housing market stabilizes, the crisis will continue. Housing is what underpins many of these toxic assets. If prices continue to fall, the assets will only become more toxic. A veteran investment banker, Thomas Patrick, has circulated an innovative proposal that would have Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac close out the securitizations and then refinance all the underlying mortgages, thus dispensing with the toxic paper and stabilizing the mortgages in one swoop. No matter what course is taken, the United States will run trillion-dollar deficits for years, the Federal Reserve will accumulate trillions on its balance sheet, and the American financial and mortgage system will have been semi-nationalized, whatever the euphemisms used to disguise that fact.

This current crisis has resulted in a deep erosion of American power that we have not fully understood. Even in the depths of the Iraq War, when much of the globe was enraged by George W. Bush's unilateralism, people everywhere believed that the United States had the world's most advanced economy and that its capital markets in particular were the most sophisticated and developed. American officials, businessmen and economists lectured far and wide on the need to copy the American system. That system is now seen across the world as a sham, a casino game in which highly paid participants mismanaged risk and highly respected regulators cheered them on. I have traveled to Europe, Asia and the Middle East in the past three months and am writing this from Canada. The attitudes of officials and businessmen range from shock to rage at what they see in the United States.

When he began his run for the White House, Barack Obama thought he could restore American power and leadership by righting our foreign policy, winding down the Iraq War, closing Guantánamo, ending torture. These are all important policies, and I am glad that he is pursuing them. But right now, the most important way for him to restore America's credibility and influence in the world is to rescue the American model.

Obama's rhetoric suggests that he understands this issue. But does Congress? Can the American political system rise to the challenge? The United States will have to enact extraordinary measures, many of them unpopular, run up huge deficits, then just as quickly start to unwind these guarantees and commitments, get onto a path of strict fiscal prudence, reform entitlements and bring our financial house in order. If we don't, the world will talk not of American power but weakness. America will be a model, all right, but of pride and its fall.

2. Robert J. Samuelson: It's Really a Global Crisis

We should all want President Obama to succeed in reviving the economy, but that shouldn't obscure the long odds he faces. We need to recognize that we're not grappling with a single economic crisis. We face three separate crises, which are interwoven but which are also distinct and different. The solution to any one of them won't automatically resuscitate the larger economy if the others remain untreated and unchanged.

Here are the three.

FIRST: the collapse of consumer spending. American consumers represent 70 percent of the economy. Traumatized by plunging home values and stock prices—which have shaved at least $7 trillion from personal wealth—they've curbed spending and increased saving. That's led directly to layoffs and higher unemployment. In December, auto and light-truck sales were down 36 percent from a year earlier.

SECOND: the financial crisis. Lending has atrophied, depriving the economy of the credit to finance new factories, homes and costly consumer purchases (cars, appliances). The deepest cuts involve securitization—the sale of bonds. Investors have gone on strike. In 2008, the issuance of investment-grade corporate bonds dropped 35 percent, reports Thomson Financial. Bonds backing credit-card loans fell 41 percent, and those backing car loans, 51 percent.

THIRD: the trade crisis. There's a mismatch between national spending and saving patterns. High-saving Asian countries relied on export-led growth that, in turn, required American consumers to spend ever-larger shares of their income. Huge trade imbalances resulted: U.S. deficits, Asian surpluses. But as Americans shift from spending to saving, this pattern is no longer sustainable. Asia is tumbling into recession. China may grow 6 percent or less in 2009, half its 2007 rate.

Overcoming any of these crises alone would be daunting. Together, they're the economic equivalent of a combined triathlon and Tour de France.

Consider consumer spending. The proposed remedy is the economic stimulus plan. On paper, this seems sensible. If government doesn't offset declines in consumer spending, housing and business investment, might not the economy spiral downward for several years? Last week, House committees considered an $825 billion package, split between $550 billion in additional spending and $275 billion in tax cuts.

The trouble is that, in practice, the program could disappoint. Parts of the House package look like a giant political slush fund, with money sprinkled to dozens of programs. There's $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, $200 million for the Teacher Incentive Fund and $15.6 billion for increased Pell Grants to college students. Some of these proposals, whatever their other merits, won't produce many new jobs.

Another problem: construction spending—for schools, clinics, roads—may start so slowly that there's little immediate boost for the $14 trillion economy. The Congressional Budget Office examined $356 billion in spending proposals and concluded that only 7 percent would be spent in 2009 and 31 percent in 2010.

But suppose the stimulus is a smashing success. It cushions the recession. Unemployment (now 7.2 percent) stops rising at, say, 8 percent instead of 10 percent. Still, a temporary stimulus can't fuel a permanent recovery. That requires, among other things, a strong financial system to supply the credit needs of an expanding economy. How we get that isn't clear.

The pillars of a successful financial system have crumbled: the ability to assess risk, adequate capital to absorb losses and trust among the players—banks, investors, traders. A common denominator in these ills has been the consistent underestimation of losses. Economists at Goldman Sachs now believe that worldwide losses on mortgages, bonds and consumer and business loans total $2.1 trillion, with $962 billion belonging to U.S. banks. In March, the Goldman estimate was about half that. Economist Nouriel Roubini's estimate of losses is higher than Goldman's.

All the new credit programs—the Treasury's Troubled Asset Relief Program and various Federal Reserve lending facilities—aim at counteracting these problems by providing government money and government guarantees. Probably Obama will expand these efforts, despite some obvious problems: if government oversight becomes too intrusive or punitive, it might deter much-needed infusions of private capital into banks. Again, let's assume Obama's policies surmount the obstacles. Credit flows and confidence rises.

Even then, we have no assurance of a vigorous recovery, because—at bottom—the economic crisis is global in scope. The old trading patterns simply won't work anymore. If China and other Asian nations try to export their way out of trouble, they're likely to be disappointed. Any import surge into the United States would weaken an incipient American recovery and possibly trigger a protectionist reaction. Down that path lies tit-for-tat economic nationalism that might harm everyone. Growing trade and investment barriers would shrink markets.

Indeed, if the rest of the world doesn't buy more from America, any U.S. recovery may be feeble. What's needed are policies that correct the underlying imbalances in spending and saving. As Americans save more of their incomes, Asians should save less and spend more, so that they rely more on satisfying their own wants to generate jobs and economic growth as opposed to exports. The great trade discrepancies would shrink. Americans would export more, import less; Asians would do the opposite.

But this sort of transformation requires basic political changes in Asia to complement changes in U.S. policies. Whether China and other Asian societies can make those changes is unclear. The implications are sobering. The success of Obama's policies lies, to a considerable extent, outside Obama's hands.

(Zoon Politikon)

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike Passed Away

John Updike, the creator of the Rabbit series, the author who depicted the American small town, Protestant middle class, the chronicler of suburban adultery, died today at the age of 76.

Here is a poem by John Updike. I found it in the NY Times. The title is REQUIEM.

It came to me the other day:

Were I to die, no one would say,

Oh, what a shame! So young, so full

Of promise — depths unplumbable!

Instead, a shrug and tearless eyes

Will greet my overdue demise;

The wide response will be, I know,

I thought he died a while ago.

For life’s a shabby subterfuge,

And death is real, and dark, and huge.

The shock of it will register

Nowhere but where it will occur.

Mi-a venit in gand mai deunazi:
De-ar fi sa mor, nimeni n-ar zice,
Ce pacat! Atat de tanar! Si ce promitator
Era! Ce profunzimi greu de sondat!
In schimb, un dat din umeri si ochi uscati
Ar saluta retragerea mea
Venita mult dupa orice asteptari.
Raspunsul tuturor ar fi, o stiu,
Acum? Nu murise? Ce chestie!
Caci viata nu este decat un subterfugiu zdrentuit
Pe cand moartea este adevarata, si neagra, e un hau.
Iar socul ei nu e simtit niciunde
Decat acolo unde se intampla.

(A Life in Books)

Soshun (Early Spring) - 1956

Un film facut de Yasujiro Ozu in 1956, Early Spring.

Povestea este cat se poate de simpla: un functionar din Tokio, la vreo 35 - 36 de ani, vag nemultumit de monotonia vietii, si la serviciu, si acasa, se aprinde dupa o colega, are cu ea o aventura foarte scurta, sotia isi da seama si pleaca de acasa, el intelege prostia facuta, sotia il iarta.

Sigur ca mentalitatea societatii s-a schimbat mult de atunci: pozitia femeii in familie si in societate este cu totul alta. Suntem insa in 1956, iar in filmele facute intre 1948 si 1962 (anul mortii lui), Ozu a studiat in infinite nuante evolutia familiei japoneze in acei ani.

Daca Kurosawa este considerat cel mai occidental dintre marii regizori japonezi (ceea ce pare poate curios in ochii nostri, pentru ca noi parem sa ii sesizam in primul rand specificul japonez), Ozu este considerat cel mai japonez dintre marii regizori - si pare iarasi curios, pentru ca lumea filmelor sale este lumea din Tokio al anilor 50, cu comportament aparent foarte occidental.

Cred ca exista aici o explicatie: Ozu era conservator - el privea occidentalizarea societatii japoneze cu un ochi critic. Mare artist, nu apasa pe nici o clapa a claviaturii prea tare - critica lui nu este niciodata stridenta - este sugerata subtil. Eroii lui se imbraca europeneste ca sa iasa din casa la cumparaturi sau la serviciu - cand reintra acasa redevin japonezi.

Casele japoneze sunt descrise cu mare rafinament: Ozu isi pune camera de filmat foarte jos, aproape de podea, la nivelul acelor tatami, iar eroii sunt in general asezati pe scaunele sau ghemuiti pe saltea. Iar camera de filmat mangaie camera de locuit, cadrajul scenei este intotdeunaa perfect, glasvandurile acelea tipic japoneze, luneca usor si raman intredechise, cadrand eroii si mobilele acelea minuscule.

Fiecare scena de interior este urmata pentru buna masura de o scena afara, in care vezi miscarea agale a norilor, miscarea agale a frunzelor - pentru ca in scena de intoerior se creaza o tensiune care este sublimata de linistea scenei de afara.

Iar la sfarsit, in cam toate filmele lui apare imaginea unui rau, care creaza senzatia de stasis - conflictul nu se va rezolva, dar exista o ordine cosmica superioara - iar conflictul va fi vazut in aceasta perspectiva ampla la adevarata lui valoare. Intr-o carte in care sunt analizate filmele lui Ozu, Bresson si Dreyer, momentul acesta final este explicat in acest sens - Paul Schrader, autorul cartii priveste filmele lui Ozu in dimensiunea lor zen.

Aici insa imaginea marelui fluviu apare putin inainte de sfarsit (insa cu acelasi efect metafizic) - iar ultima imagine, care urmeaza dupa impacarea celor doi soti, este o imagine a unor munti impaduriti (sa nu va inchipuiti ca impacarea lor este prezentata in film mai mult decat ce este strict necesar: ea ii spune, da, putem sa consideram ca viata noastra de cuplu incepe din nou)

Este, din cate stiu, singurul film in care Ozu s-a ocupat de aventura extraconjugala. In celelalte filme ale lui, subiectul a fost relatia intre generatii in aceeasi familie.

Povestea filmului se desfasoara, ca in toate celelate filme ale lui, cu multa economie de mijoace. Exista o decenta care il opreste pe regizor sa spuna despre un lucru mai mult decat trebuie neaparat spus. Iar dramatismul situatiei il ghicesti dincolo de ce se vede pe ecran. Sotul incepe sa isi minta sotia, pentru a-si justifica absentele: un coleg de serviciu muribund este o scuza pentru a lipsi noaptea.

Ati putea sa credeti ca filmul este eliptic. Da si nu. Imaginati-va o poveste de Cehov si veti avea imaginea filmului. Cehov nu spune nici el mai mult decat trebuie: aceeasi decenta superba. Dar, ca si Ozu, Cehov lasa povestea sa curga cumva dela sine si nu se fereste de amanunte care apar deodata, fara voia lui, amanunte care nu au legatura cu logica povestirii, dar care, tocmai fiindca apar natural, ne transmit semnale extarordinare deapre o lume care este acolo, dincolo de naratiune. E un talent urias, sa nu spui nimic mai mult decat trebuie din ce tine de logica naratiunii si in acelasi timp sa lasi viata sa curga odata cu naratiunea si sa acorzi momentele potrivite franturilor neasteptate care iti apar fara voia ta, a celui care esti autor.

Pentru cunoscatorii filmelor lui Ozu: este unul din putinele filme in care nu apare marea artista Setsuko Hara - iar alt mare artist, Chishu Ryu apare intr-un rol secundar. Il stiam din atatea filme ale lui Ozu, l-am recunoscut aici si i-am urmarit jocul cu multa bucurie - intalnirea cu un vechi prieten.

Exista la Ozu, ca si la Cehov, acea toleranta inteleapta a celui care a vazut multe in viata si stie ca nu trebuie sa judeci pentru a nu fi judecat, si mai stie ca life goes on no matter what.

(Yasujiro Ozu and Setsuko Hara)

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Unbelievable Images - Piccadilly (1929)


Days of Youth - 1929

Gakusei romance: Wakaki hi (Days of Youth), a movie made by Ozu in 1929. Chishu Ryu was playing in it. Quite a long story, isn't it?

(Yasujiro Ozu and Setsuko Hara)

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Floating Weeds

O trupa ambulanta de teatru Kabuki, dand spectacole prin diverse sate si impuscand francul, cum se zice.

Liderul trupei este un actor imbatranit alunecand tot mai mult spre cabotinism, stapan inca pe cateva trucuri actoricesti care merg cat vor mai merge. Alaturi de el actrita principala, imbatranita si ea, amanta lui de multa vreme, crezandu-se deci in drept sa terorizeze restul trupei. O actrita tanara in roluri de ingenua, cam curvulita sau poate numai prostuta. Si vreo doi - trei actori care nu mai sunt chiar tineri nici ei, talentul nu ii da afara din casa, in cautare mereu de noi contracte cu alte trupe.

Intr-unul din satele prin care trec si dau spectacole, o carciumarita imbatranita si ea (evident, o carciuma nenorocita de tara unde se serveste ceai, sake de proasta calitate, si oarece mancaruri specifice). Carciumarita si-a crescut singura baiatul, resemnata, fara sa ii reproseze niciodata nimic tatalui care mai venea din cand in cand cu trupa de teatru, cum a venit acum. Fiul il stie de unchi, unchiul actor cu care merge la pescuit atunci cand apare prin sat, odata la cativa ani. Fiul are acum vreo 20 de ani si este foarte reusit. Este studios, este energic, si mama vrea sa il vada la universitate.

Batranul actor a obosit si ar vrea sa traga la matca, nu mai poate lupta cu spectacole de rahat, cu tot mai putini spectatori, cu drumuri noroioase intre saturi, si cu dormit prin hanuri. Asa ca ar lasa dracului toate si ar ramane la iubirea lui din tinerete, la carciumareasa. Care e fericita ca iubitul ei va ramane in sfarsit la ea, sa aibe macar acum la batranete cui sa ii spele izmenele si sa ii miroasa aghioasele.

Evident insa ca actrita principala nu pare deloc multumita cu acest outcome si incepe sa teasa intrigi. O convinge usor pe actrita tanara sa il seduca pe tanar.

Ce urmeaza ii va nemultumi pe toti. Cei doi tineri se vor indragosti imediat unul de celalalt si vor ramane impreuna. Ea va parasi teatrul pentru a fi o sotie iubitoare, el va renunta la universitate. Carciumareasa va vedea ca visul ei de a-si vedea fiul domn s-a dus pe apa sambetei. Actrita principala va vedea ca nu obtine de fapt nimic din intriga ei. Actorul principal va incerca sa controleze situatia si sa il intoarca pe fiul lui spre universitate, fiul va afla ca actorul este tatal lui si il va sictiri, ce mama dracului a pascut pana acum de douazeci de ani? Daca mama il iubeste si inca vrea sa il primeasca e treaba ei, dar pe el sa il lase dracului in pace.

Intre timp trupa se destrama, fiecare actor pleaca spre alta trupa.

Actorul batran este decis sa ramana macar acum langa femeia care l-a iubit in zadar atat amar de ani, dar ceva il face sa fuga la gara, unde il asteapta actrita principala, vor merge amandoi sa joace in alta trupa care este dispusa sa ii primeasca, asa cabotini cum sunt.

Sunt floating weeds, buruieni plutitoare, nu pot sta intr-un loc, rostul lor de buruieni este sa pluteasca unde ii duce apa.

Yasujiro Ozu a facut filmul asta prin anii 30: un film mut. Spre sfarsit de cariera a facut un remake, sonor si in culori.

Am avut posibilitatea sa vad amandoua versiunile.

(Yasujiro Ozu and Setsuko Hara)

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Two Samurai Movies - for Danu and Vic

An old man is killed by a ruthless ronin. Wait a little: not exactly! The old one was just praying the gods, one second ago, to take his life. So it seems that the ronin did the right thing. Or not? (according to Anthony Loyd, you can die only two ways, doing the right thing for the wrong reason or doing the wrong thing for the good reason). Dai-bosatsu tôge (Sword of Doom), made in 1966 by Kihachi Okamoto, a movie that I highly recommend to my two friends, Ion Vincent Danu and Vic-ot-Cta.

Another movie for them: Moeyo Ken (The Blazing Sword), made in 1966 by Hirokazu Ichimura (the movie is not listed on imdb, what a shame!)

(Japanese Cinema)

Monday, January 26, 2009

A French Documentary on Setsuko Hara

(Unfortunately both videos are no longer available)

Setsuko Hara started to play in 1935. She was only fifteen by then. Her legend dominated sometimes over the real life. They say she played only in Ozu's movies; actually she played also in movies of Kurosawa and Naruse, among others. For us she remained for ever Noriko, from Late Spring, Early Summer, and Tokyo Story, the eternal virgin of Japan.

She disappeared from public life entirely, in the early sixties, and refused to play any more. She was only 42 by that time. Her reason was that she wanted to live her own life. Nobody understood her, nobody approved her.

It was however a decision of profound dignity: Noriko proved, in real life, that she was the one to decide independently on her own destiny.

She has been living since then in Kamakura, the small quiet town from the movies of Ozu; she is now in her late eighties. And I am sure she walks now and then to the train station, watching trains that come and go and living again the world of her movies that we have always loved.

(Yasujiro Ozu and Setsuko Hara)


Setsuko Hara in a Movie by Sadao Yamanaka from 1936

The movie (Kochiama Soshun - Priest of Darkness) was made in 1936, by Sadao Yamanaka. It is based on a kabuki drama (Kochiyama to Naozamurai). Setsuko Hara is here at her third role.

She was sixteen by then.

(Yasujiro Ozu and Setsuko Hara)

(Sadao Yamanaka)

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Peace Murals of Huong

Georgetown, 3336 M Street NW: a huge exhibition of mural panels, spread over two floors. There are hundreds of panels covering the enormous raw, unplastered walls. One author and one theme: Let's Think Peace!

The author is Huong. She was 25 years old when she fled Vietnam, in 1975. She succeeded to arrive to US. Huong had been a journalist in her native country and she was feeling the vital need to express her thoughts. She was not mastering English by that time, so she changed the pen for brush.

Walking along the endless mural panels of Huong, you feel overwhelmed. She has force, she has honesty, she has courage.

And a huge talent. Picasso and Guttuso come to mind, of course, along with the German Expressionists. But there is also something that belongs only to the art of Huong: the way she knows how to convey a duality of meanings. Look at her doves, holding tiny strings: the very fragile moment between life and death.

Says Huong, I see war happening in the world today with a clear vision and perspective. I am not young and scared as I was growing up in Vietnam. I totally understand the dance of wolves. There are 160 million people killed in the wars of the last century. With the technology the human is armed today, what is this number going to be in the next century?

Events of today's world rise terrible questions and there are not easy answers. Each of us is looking for her or his own answers. We can agree or not with Huong's vision. Perhaps that's the most important aspect of this exhibition: it forces us to discuss, to find arguments, to think peace!

The answer of the murals of Huong is more than radical; it is total, every time I look at the horror on the faces of the current war victims, every single face I look at, I see myself.

(Contemporary Art)

Saturday, January 24, 2009

All About Setsuko Hara

It's time to speak more about Setsuko Hara; some consider her the greatest. What is sure, she played unforgetable roles. And she gave each role all her generosity.

Look at this video: it is the final scene from a movie made in 1947: Anjo-ke no Butokai (The Ball at the Anjo House). The director is Kozaburo Yoshimura.

The war was lost, and the cultured and liberal Anjo family is stripped of all aristocratic titles and fortune. They give a last ball before leaving their mansion. Will they survive to all that happens? Setsuko Hara plays one of the daughters.

It is a scene where you can learn all about the roles played by Setsuko Hara: beauty, purity, tolerance, generosity, determination, and something that is over all these and cannot be defined easily; French folks name it je ne sais quoi.

(video authored by jahmorinz)

I did not see the whole movie and so I don't know, it could be good, it could be mediocre. But I consider this the greatest scene ever played by Setsuko Hara. There are no subtitles; it doesn't matter: no need for them.

(Yasujiro Ozu and Setsuko Hara)


Kennedy by Dali

Salvador Dali - Kennedy, etching

Most times I pass by Galerie Lareuse when it's closed, and I'm trying to take some shots from the window, fighting with the reflections of electrical light.

Today I saw there this JFK, an etching made by Dali.

- close up -

(Galerie Lareuse)


Ice on the Potomac

(Stories from Key Bridge)

Friday, January 23, 2009

Late Spring: The Bikes

Two bikes and two traces in the sand. Noriko and Hattori have ridden the bikes and just left them to go further on the shore. And they, the bikes and the traces, know what Noriko and Hattori do not.

Or perhaps Noriko and Hattori know it too, only they lack the courage to acknowledge. It came too late, Hattori is already engaged.

Ozu, the director of Banshun (Late Spring) knew how to make bikes and traces in the sand play in his movies, like humans. Tian Zhuang-Zhuang would have also this huge talent to make active players from objects (Springtime in a Small Town), only Tian had learned it from Ozu.

I saw this scene long before watching the whole movie. The scene with Setsuko Hara (playing Noriko) and Jun Usami (in Hattori) riding the bicycles, their eyes full of indescribable enthusiasm.

I was watching a movie of Hou Hsiao-Hsien (Hao Nan Hao Nu - Good Men, Good Women): there is a scene taking place in a small modern apartment. A TV monitor, a movie played on TV. Noriko and Hattori riding the bicycles, their eyes full of indescribable enthusiasm.

It was my first encounter with Ozu. I wanted badly to see the whole movie. I did not know the title. I only knew that it was a scene from a movie of Ozu. Hou, the great Taiwanese artist, was bringing a touching tribute to the great master of all times. Later, Hou would make a whole movie dedicated to the style of Ozu: Kôhî jikô (Café Lumière).

One year passed. I watched Late Spring, and the scene was there: Noriko and Hattori riding the bicycles, their eyes full of indescribable enthusiasm.

I watched Late Spring again, a couple of days ago. And I noticed the bikes and the traces in the sand. Telling about love with such restraint! What a great scene!


Another Japanese movie made in the same year, 1949: Aoi sanmyaku (Green Mountains), by Imai Tadashi. There is a scene with youngsters riding the bikes, Setsuko Hara among them! What a joy!

I found the video by pure chance, just browsing the YouTube. The title was with hieroglyphs, it took a bit to find the title on IMDB. I just browsed for movies made in 1949, with Setsuko Hara :)

(Yasujiro Ozu and Setsuko Hara)

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