#55 | 2021 Recap, Japanese & French Things for 2022
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A quick recap of my main events in 2021, and the usual updates.
0. RECAP OF 2021: Summit, Unicorn, Investing, Coding, BJJ
1. WORK: Deep Tech Events, Meat the Future
2. EXPERIENCES: Blue Belt Bruises
3. CULTURE: Japanese Shows, French Stuff, and a few more things
4. THOUGHTS: Next time!
0. RECAP OF 2021
A nice improvement over 2020, overall. A few notable things:
Co-produced the solid SOSV Climate Tech Summit featuring Bill Gates and many more amazing entrepreneurs and investors.
Angel invested in 2 more startups (total: 18).
Ramped up some coding knowledge (Python for automation, computer vision, NLP and some ML, mostly from Udemy).
Received a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (more below).
Deep Tech Events
The Hello Tomorrow Global Summit — a top global Deep Tech conference in Paris — took place as planned despite the Omicron scare. SOSV was represented strongly including by SOSV’s founder Sean O’Sullivan, speaking on deep tech investment and climate tech.
I moderated a panel on Climate Tech with 4 investors including Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Lowercarbon Capital and the newly created World Fund. It might get published later on the Hello Tomorrow youtube channel.
Meat The Future
You probably heard of ‘cultured meat’ (meat made from growing animal muscle cells). SOSV has been backing several pioneers in this space. A daring filmmaker is releasing a documentary called Meat The Future, in which she followed for over five years the rise of Upside Foods (fka Memphis Meats) and its founder, with narration from Jane Goodall and music from Moby! We held a private screening recently and had a very interesting panel discussion with the film director, the startup founder and the colleague who heads our biology program IndieBio. It is well worth a listen — history in the making! You can read Churchill’s essay ‘Fifty Years Hence’ as a complement.
“We shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing, by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium.” — Churchill
Blue Belt Bruises
It took about 3 years but I now have a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Covid didn’t help but as the saying goes: “a black belt is a white belt who didn’t give up”.
After a friendly whipping to celebrate new grads (like that), the higher belts told us they won’t go easy on us anymore.
It happened right when I was considering competing: so instead of being an experienced white belt, I would now be beginner blue belt…
The girl who started just a year ago and trained twice a day (!) also got promoted. She had won over half a dozen tournaments before graduating. She’s about 165cm and 55kg… and a full time medical doctor.
For unexplained reasons, this edition is heavy on Japanese things.
Asakusa Kid*** (Netflix)
Takeshi Kitano’s movies were part of the reason I studied Japanese. In France, he is mostly known as a quirky / artsy filmmaker and actor for his movies ‘Hanabi’ and ‘The Summer of Kikujiro’. Few know that in Japan he’s mostly known as a comic and TV slapstick comedy show host. This movie is based on his biopic and centers on his early years. It starts with learning from his mentor Senzaburo Fukami, then breaking into standup (a duo form called manzai), inspired by the bold style of Lenny Bruce. I always find interesting how ideas cross borders, and I suppose many comics would find echo in Takeshi’s journey. Lots of なんでやねん (nandeyanen = nonsense!) and aggressive この野郎 (konoyaro = dumbass, etc.). Overall it was an enjoyable movie, with great performance from the two leads (I hadn’t recognized Yuya Yagira, the kid from ‘Nobody Knows’ — he was the youngest and first Japanese to be awarded as Best Actor in Cannes). It made me curious about the 2002 version.
They had me at ‘Almodovar’. As usual: strong female characters, beautiful photography, Penelope Cruz. I enjoyed it.
The Power of the Dog*** (Netflix)
Jane Campion directs a dark Western with Benedict Cumberbatch and Kirsten Dunst. Solid job. The oppressive vibe is not designed to cheer people up.
I loved the first movie, but not quite as much the later ones, including this one. I quite liked the idea that Neo (spoiler!) might not be ‘the one’ (he never thought so himself, apparently), but I felt the story was a bit Disneyfied. Maybe I missed something or it’s just not for me (though ‘if you’re watching it, it’s for you’).
If you haven’t had enough of Larry David in Curb, here is a movie where he plays the angry and impoverished co-founder of a Tesla-like startup. Jon Hamm as the CEO foreshadows the great parts he will have in Curb about a decade later.
Don’t Look Up** (Netflix)
This movie had so many stars it looked perfect for a space-related movie. Sadly it bored me quickly and I stopped watching… then some friends said they loved it, so I went back to finish it and found it tolerable.
Japan Sinks: People of Hope**** (Netflix)
So now Japan is sinking. Any suggestion on how to get other countries to open their doors to 120 million refugees?
Japan Sinks 2020*** (Netflix)
This is an anime version based on the same novel. This version focuses on a family trying to survive as the country sinks. I was surprised that many characters died abruptly, and on occasion by an unusual animation style: it was indeed from Masaaki Yuasa, the director of Mind Game (an amazing experimental/surreal film that only animation could do (here is a quick primer). Note: Apparently Yuasa was impressed by Bill Plympton’s Your Face a while ago (play with sound). This might explain that.
Star Wars: Visions** to **** (Disney+)
The rabbit hole took me further into the works of Science SARU (Yuasa’s studio), who participated in this anthology of creative shorts set in the Star Wars universe (like The Animatrix, but I found this set better). My favorites are: episode 1 (with its gritty Vagabond syle), episode 6 (a blend with Astro Boy) and 8-9. I felt the others had more conventional stories and/or design.
If you like seeing people walk up and down private jets and scream on phonecalls, this is for you. The family and business shenanigans are entertaining, the acting is great, the sets and photography are gorgeous but I eventually lost interest.
Space Force** (Netflix)
It was fun to see John Malkovich play a scientist after seeing him as Pope in The New Pope (I liked more The Young Pope with Jude Law). Steve Carell does what he does and it makes for good entertainment, but I could probably have skipped this one.
The Orbital Children (Netflix)**
I got excited when I saw that Mitsuo Iso, the director of Den-noh Coil (the best animation series about the future of AR, now also on Netflix) had a new near-future show, focused on space tourism, advanced A.I., social media, and global government (UN2.1). It had some interesting bits, a few references to Google, Elon Musk and some emerging tech but I wasn't blown away.
And Just Like That*
I had watched and mostly enjoyed Sex And The City back in the day, but I could not get past beyond the first episode of this new show. I suppose I’m not the target audience, yet I wonder who is…
The Golden Island**** (theatre, in French)
This show would deserve a global stage but is only in Paris (and in French). Its director Ariane Mnouchkine has been an avant-garde theatre pioneer of extraordinary creativity since the early 1960’s (she’s now 82). Her latest play does not disappoint, taking the audience to a dream-like visit of a Japanese town preparing for a theatre festival (Mnouchkine first backpacked there for months in 1963, seeing kabuki, noh, bunraku — maybe butoh too?). The entire theatre has been redesigned for the occasion, the traits of actors are blurred using tights-like covers similar to bank robbers, and they speak using a Japanese-like grammar, giving an eery atmosphere. The play is a bit of a pot-pourri of ideas as it blends with humor a lot of social commentary (including references to Xi Jinping, Hong Kong, Trump, and more). The only issue I had was its length: at about 3 hours, it was either twice too long, or half too short (if the audience could come and go).
By French best-selling author Michel Houellebecq
Not his best, but the writing is always solid, and it is a somewhat interesting exploration of the intermingling of politics, distributed terrorism and finance, on the backdrop of the 2027 French presidential election (in this alternative reality, France's economy is booming, driven by its automotive sector and trade barriers). The story takes a left turn in its last part to focus on the declining health of a character. Overall, Houellebecq is an astute observer of society's ills. Many years ago at a conference he gave, I asked him whether he could offer some solutions too, but he said that solutions were not his strength...
I usually share a few more thoughts here, but I’m already late for posting this, so I’ll keep them for next time.
My best wishes for 2022!