Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo: Movie Review

By Rainer, Peter | The Christian Science Monitor, May 30, 2010 | Go to article overview

Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo: Movie Review


Rainer, Peter, The Christian Science Monitor


'Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo' documents Japan's fascination with insects.

How could I resist reviewing a movie called "Beetle Queen Conquers

Tokyo"? No, it's not a "Godzilla"-style sci-fi film. It's something

far stranger - a poetic documentary about the Japanese fascination

with bugs. The director, Jessica Oreck, is a first-time filmmaker and

longtime animal keeper at the American Museum of Natural History in

New York. She knows her horned beetles and dragonflies, which I dare

say is more than can be said for most filmmakers.

Except for the occasional stilted voice-over narration, spoken by a

Japanese woman in tones soothing enough to lull you into beddy- bye,

"Beetle Queen" is blessedly free of bioethnological cant. Watching

this film, I never felt as though I was going to be graded afterward.

Oreck's lack of experience as a filmmaker turns out to be a plus. She

approaches her subject in a intuitively haphazard manner, and if this

sometimes results in digressions going nowhere, her nowheres are

still more interesting than most directors' somewheres. (She visually

contrasts, for example, pedestrians' multicolored umbrellas with

beetles' protective shells.)

The Japanese love affair with insects takes many forms, but most of

them are, by Western standards, exotic. To Oreck's credit, she

doesn't attempt to play down the exoticism by pretending to go

native. She shows us how insects, popular house pets, are routinely

sold live in vending machines, department stores, and street fairs.

We go on bug hunts in the countryside - prize beetles can sometimes

sell for as much as $90,000. In one especially magical scene, we

watch families mass outdoors at night to watch fireflies.

Oreck has an almost pantheistic visual sense, and this is somewhat

in keeping with the spiritual roots of bug love in Japan, which

derives from Shintoism and Buddhism. The thesis of the movie is that

everything in nature is cohesive and worthy of veneration. …

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