Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo
From the title one would expect “Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo” to be a really good, campy Japanese monster movie made around the same time as “Godzilla.” Instead what we have is a beautifully photographed documentary about the Japanese culture’s interest in insects.
Narrators explain philosophical ideas about all things living in harmony and the Japanese appreciation of the diminutive, nature in particular. One example is the miniature bonsai tree which, the film explains, has the effect of shrinking nature to a small scale so that it can better be observed. Hence, part of the explanation for the appreciation of the tiny beetles. The insects are shown sold in pet stores at astronomical prices, some as high as fifty-seven dollars each.
While “Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo” is great to look at, with beautiful close up photography of beetles and other insects, story-wise it loses its narrative thread once it has set up its basic premise. The film makes its point about the “oneness” of all things by utilizing shots of people scurrying, insect-like, around a large metropolitan area, presumably Tokyo. Close-ups of the crowd’s umbrella tops mimic insect antennas. The point is clearly made that the scurrying people are not too far removed from the habits of the insect world. We are shown some variation of this at quite a few points. For example, we see the white socked foot of a tired commuter resting on a train’s seat intercut with a baby insect struggling to get out of its similarly shaped white cocoon. I get it, we’re all the same. We also learn a little about Japanese history as it relates to the appreciation of the insect world.
My basic problem with “Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo” is that while it is well intentioned it is just not all that interesting. A good documentary is one that can take a subject with which I am not familiar, or in which I am not particularly interested, and present it in a way that makes it compelling. Applying this standard to “Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo” the film only makes about half the grade. The concept would have worked better at a shorter length. Instead the film resorts to repetition, utilizing narrators who are less than inspiring, in order to fill out its 90 minute running time.
“Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo” opens at Film Forum on May 14.
Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, director Jessica Oreck, 2009, An Argot Pictures Release, 90 minutes