Le montagnard, le charbon et les yôkai

Le Conte du charbonnier (Sumiyaki monogatari)
de Takeno Shigeyasu

Picquier manga, 2006

Japon, après-guerre. Dans les vallées reculées du Kii, plusieurs familles vivent encore du charbonnage traditionnel. Le jeune Ue Toshikatsu est de ces charbonniers, qui coupe les chênes et les fait brûler dans son four, au bord d’une rivière, pour obtenir le binchôtan, un charbon de haute qualité. Sa vie est solitaire, rythmée par les coupes, le four à entretenir, et les parties de chasse, seule manière d’améliorer l’ordinaire. Existe-t-il métier plus bas dans l’échelle sociale que celui de charbonnier? Pourtant Toshikatsu est heureux. Il est libre, indépendant, il possède son propre four, et surtout il vit en communion totale avec la nature, au coeur d’un forêt sauvage mais protectrice. Il en connaît les règles, il la respecte, il en est un gardien presque amoureux.

Car si la vie est dure, elle est aussi source d’émerveillement, et Toshikatsu garde son âme d’enfant, lorsqu’il regarde les oiseaux, qu’il pêche, qu’il se baigne dans la rivière… Il vit autant le jour que la nuit, avec les animaux pour voisins. Il pactise avec les tanuki, (ces chiens sauvages vénérés dans la culture populaire, et qui sont les héros du film Pompoko), et s’amuse de leurs visites dans sa cabane. Il observe le pic, qui, comme lui, creuse son trou en parfait terrassier, pour en faire un nid douillet. Il entend la grive, dont la plainte nocturne annonce parfois le décès d’un montagnard. Il salue le chamois blanc, qui le toise du haut de son rocher, « tel un mage-ermite de l’ancien temps…« .

 Et, comme il le dit, « la nuit tombée, les choses mystérieuses de la montagne s’approchent... » C’est le moment où les yôkai, les esprits et les démons immémoriaux, viennent lui tenir compagnie. « Je les aime bien, ils ne sont pas méchants« . Car pour Toshikatsu, c’est une évidence, les esprits sont partout autour de lui, dans cette forêt, qui a sa propre personnalité. Il faut les accepter, y croire, et on peut alors les voir. Toshikatsu a l’âme simple, pure, il est poète à sa façon.

Le récit du charbonnier nous apprend les gestes quotidiens, l’entretien du feu, la coupe des arbres, le transport des balles de charbon à dos d’homme. Le récit a aussi une dimension sociale et historique. Il raconte l’histoire immémoriale des montagnards et de leur misère, ces gens tellement pauvres qu’ils ne peuvent même pas être paysans, et qui se tournent vers la forêt pour en vivre comme charbonniers. Certains d’entre eux sont si misérables qu’ils n’ont pas leur propre four, et qu’ils n’ont que leurs bras à louer aux charbonniers propriétaires. Toshikatsu a de la chance, il est propriétaire de son four, et il a acheté sa parcelle de forêt. Mais il sait bien que même dans ces montagnes reculées, il y a de plus pauvres que lui. Aujourd’hui, dans les années 2000, il y a encore près de 200 familles qui vivraient du charbonnage traditionnel.

Le récit ne nous cache rien de la vie difficile et solitaire du charbonnier. Il reste cependant discret, sinon muet, sur la misère sociale et sexuelle du charbonnier. Il n’y a presque pas de femmes dans ces vallées, à part dans les villages où le charbon est amené pour être vendu. Cela n’a pas l’air de préoccuper Toshikatsu, comme si cet aspect de l’existence était totalement refoulé. La nature comme compagne? Pourtant, de chapitre en chapitre, le récit glisse progressivement vers le fantastique, comme si les yôkai, les esprits nocturnes, devenaient l’unique compagnie du jeune homme solitaire. Et ces fantasmes nocturnes (la vieille femme des neiges, la nature protectrice, les démons…) sont peut-être une manifestation compensatrice de ce refoulement. Sur ce point, le mystère demeure; et les interprétations sont possibles.

Le Conte du charbonnier est un manga magnifique, au dessin puissamment évocateur, et l’auteur, Takeno Shigeyasu, fait preuve d’une maîtrise graphique admirable. C’est son premier manga sous son nom, à… 55 ans, lui qui a été assistant toute sa vie. Il dit avoir été largement influencé par les publications de Garo, dont il était fan dès sa jeunesse, et c’est la maison Seirindo (éditrice de Garo) qui a accepté de publier son manga. Je n’ai pas connaissance d’autres oeuvres de cet auteur. Le Conte du charbonnier est peut-être le one-shot de toute une vie, ou bien peut-être annonce-t-il d’autres oeuvres à venir. En tous cas, c’est une incontestable réussite, à ranger aux côtés des meilleurs Taniguchi, pas moins.

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