Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo Reviews
Except it does not tell the whole story and is a prime example why bringing up the idea of national identity is to say the least, wrong. If you don't believe me, check out "The Cove" about how some Japanese fishermen have a total lack of respect for nature. So which picture is right? Both? Neither? Just remember that this is a complex world we live in.
The Japanese love insects.
They love them long time.
Juxtaposing images of beetle hunters, cricket keepers, entomologists, insect markets and adorable squealing children who keep pets of the squirmy variety, Director Jessica Orek draws us into a culture where every living creature ‚" even the tiniest one ‚" is equally important.
I admit: some of the larvae close-ups gave me the wigs (don‚(TM)t even get me started on the Ferrari-driving dude who supplements his sake with WASPS! And then drinks! IT!), but there‚(TM)s also plenty of beauty to look at: dragonfly wings, fluttering butterflies, and crickets chirping happily.
I enjoyed it, even if it didn‚(TM)t exactly convince me that I need to keep anything other than furry, four-legged creatures in my house.
I am telling you, this is a killer documentary. I believe the word I used right after the screening was, "Sensuous."
Completely uninhibited and willing to take risks, by all practical accounts the film shouldn't work. The fact that it does is a testament to the filmmakers' obvious love of the form and a willingness in general to be completely sold out to the topic. We not only get to study the fascinating bugs of Japan, which are larger and more beautiful than any bug I've ever seen, but we study the people, too, and their fascination with the little critters. They marvel at these insects for their vitality, for the sounds they make, and for the way they teach in nature.
The fascination is rooted in the 6th century in early Shinto and now Buddhist philosophy. These beautiful beetles, fireflies and crickets are a part of animist nature. According to Japanese beliefs, where the natural and the spiritual are more closely related, the universe is alive and breathing, and willing to teach -- as long as we're willing to listen. They give us insight even into ourselves.
A soft-sounding feminine narrator explains how the firefly is the signature of burning love; how the dragonfly is a symbol of warrior power; how the sound of crickets is the song of night life; how a rhinoceros beetle resembles lightning from the horns on his head, he's a guardian of power or prestige.
But if it's about honor for the insects, it's also about honor for the creation of film. The whole movie is like a love story created for the eyes -- my heart was pounding with every frame. There are images here that are soaked in miniscule beauty -- like haiku, the small poetry that was invented for the insect microverse. But then we're taken out of the insect world on a journey that shows the Tokyo crowds, Japanese children at play, the history and tradition of the religion, and the ebb and flow of their cities -- the pulse and grind of daily life. We see what the people in the streets of Tokyo might look like from a dragonfly's point of view, and then we're back on a leaf, or in a spotlight, or in a pet Beetle's cage, back with that wonderful feminine voice that narrates more philosophical musings.
It is a poetic film that keeps our eyes fixed on the screen in excitement over nature. I almost lept to my feet in applause several times only a few minutes in.
80s retro synth-pop pokes in at various points, the electro-bop heightening the fun of the experience. It drifts between this and Thom Yorke-type electronica. The two styles blend in and out of each other, giving breaks between narration which make you light up like a firefly at the wondrous sound and imagery.
Despite to the intimations of what proves to be its ironic title (all that?s absent is an exclamation point), Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo is not a new addition to the nation?s durable canon of rampaging monster movies. Rather, it?s an attempt to resolve this collective bug love ? which remains as pervasive today as ever ? with the philosophical mores on which Japanese culture was founded.
Charting the evolution of a national ontology through a people?s shared obsession with insects is certainly a singular proposition, particularly when closing focus on such a people-dense capital as Tokyo, whose towering highrises suggest human honeycombs and whose citizens, when viewed from a moth?s-eye vantage, seem to navigate the city?s teeming urban channels like drone ants. It?s a shame, then, that American documentarian Jessica Oreck ? an animal keeper at New York?s American Museum of Natural History ? struggles to maintain both audience interest and a cogent thesis throughout her feature debut. Thanks to the inherent otherworldliness of the bugs themselves (a miscellany ranging from stag beetles and moon moths to hornets and silkworms appear); some stylish, trance-like transitional interludes; and a quirky score which appropriately shrills with synthesised chirrups, Beetle Queen might move to the pleasing rhythms of a J-pop daydream, but its slender poetry is achieved at the expense of insight.
A breathy, Japanese-language voice over exhaustively explicates the historical origins of Japan?s infatuation with all things six-legged. We learn of the notion of mono no aware ? which approximates ?a sympathy to transience? ? and hear haiku after haiku after haiku after haiku authored in honour of a venerable, minimalist Japan that ?rejoices in the miniscule.? (Hence the traditions of bonsai, zen gardens and yes, haiku, which downscale the unfathomably great so as to permit human contemplation). An affinity with the ephemeral and an ennobling of the Lilliputian, it seems, have informed the Japanese consciousness for centuries. With this context, a collective enchantment with insects is easy to understand.
It?s all interesting enough, but glaringly ignored is the more pertinent issue of how this once deferential relationship has of late been perverted by the rising westernisation of Japanese culture. While the Emperors of old once commissioned versical tributes to noble dragonflies and were then happy to leave nature to its course, Beetle Queen reveals ? seemingly by accident ? a modern industry of insect enthusiasts apathetic to the ecological implications of their pastime. We?re shown bustling beetle bazaars, meet profiteering bug hunters (?Bugs paid for this Ferrari,? boasts one) and visit specialty dealerships dedicated to the vending of rare and exotic specimens. All the while, the narration insists the enthusiasm remains age-old and respectful, but Oreck?s footage betrays a contradictory actuality: gone is the spiritual affiliation with insects so stubbornly averred by the filmmaker and fÍted those bygone poets; in its place is an obsession as plainly commercial as Pokťmon.
There?s a compelling parallel to drawn between the commodification of insect interest and Tokyo?s latter-last-century emergence as one of the world?s most rampantly consumerist metropolises, but that?s perhaps fodder for a cannier film. Oreck declines scrutinising her two-legged subjects too closely, and instead contents in parading cute cultural curios and nostalgia-cocooned antiquity. Her Beetle Queen tests the patience for this, but at least its director seems so at bliss, off, as she is, with the fireflies.