Review: ‘Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo’

Eschewing character arcs and talking heads in favor of a more poetic approach, this lyrical exercise in avant-garde entomology is the work of an intuitive filmmaker with an often hypnotic sense of composition.

Writer-director Jessica Oreck burrows into Japan’s historic fascination with insects in “Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo,” and what’s remarkable about this quietly spellbinding documentary is that it gets the viewer to share in that fascination, too. Eschewing character arcs and talking heads in favor of a more poetic approach, this lyrical exercise in avant-garde entomology is the work of an intuitive filmmaker with an often hypnotic sense of composition. Strange subject matter and lack of easy hooks will keep crossover success at bay, but good buzz should attract fest auds and tube interest. A 52-minute version is available for broadcast.

Pic spends plenty of time in the Japanese shops where bugs are sold as pets (sometimes in vending machines), as well as in homes where kids enthusiastically play with beetles almost as big as their faces. Meanwhile, Oreck traces the various religious and philosophical influences — namely Buddhism and Shintoism, with its emphasis on the primacy of nature — that have made Japan unique in its embrace of these almost universally reviled creatures. Sean Price Williams’ mini-DV lensing of insects in nature, especially of fireflies at dusk, is pure poetry.

Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo

Production

Produced by Jessica Oreck. Co-producers, Maiko Endo, Akito Kawahara. Directed, written by Jessica Oreck.

Crew

Camera (color, mini-DV), Sean Price Williams; editors, Theo Angell, Oreck; music, J.C. Morrison; music supervisor, Williams. Reviewed at CineVegas Film Festival (Pioneer Documentaries), June 12, 2009. (Also in SXSW Film Festival -- Emerging Visions.) English, Japanese dialogue. Running time: 91 MIN.

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