×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Tokyo Waka’

This lyrical meditation on crows in the Japanese capital offers a rewarding wide for viewers who can go with the flow.

With:

(Japanese, English dialogue)

John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson’s lyrically meditative docu “Tokyo Waka” focuses on the titular city and its 20,000 crows. The result seems somewhat scattershot at first; no overarching throughline determines the sequence of human and/or avian activity filmed and commented upon by various residents, ornithologists, city officials and artists. But the patterns of movement that sweep through, horizontally and vertically, effectively capture the city’s rhythms: Snow and cherry blossoms fall, pedestrians stream through intersections, crows wheel in the sky or perch on rooftops in Hitchcockian numbers. Playing at New York’s Film Forum, “Waka” offers a rewarding ride for viewers who can go with the flow.  

Tokyo boasts an especially large species of crow, and on the most basic narrative level, the film recounts the centuries-long interaction between these black birds and the Japanese capital. Filmmakers generously sample Japanese art in which crows figure prominently, from classical paintings and woodcuts to Masahisa Fukase’s melancholy “Raven” photographs and contempo performance art featuring the birds painted yellow.

But crows also pose municipal problems. They are seen swooping down and pecking the heads of several hapless Japanese pedestrians; 600 such attacks are reported yearly. Omnivorous, they scatter the city’s garbage far and wide, locked in perpetual combat with the sanitation department as each side invents methods of outwitting the other.

Haptas and Samuelson alternate mass human movement — umbrella-toting crowds ascending staircases or gaggles of pedestrians navigating forests of sign-filled streets — with more individualized human specimens. These include a smiling, articulate young homeless woman who lives in a tent city in the middle of a park, advocating for an alternative definition of “home.”

Similarly, interspersed with the murders of crows ominously gathering on overhead wires or gliding in circles above the city, ingenious individual birds are shown adapting to an urban environment they have co-opted for centuries. One bird rolls walnuts into the street to be crushed by cars, and then waits patiently for a green light to allow it time to hop over and consume them. Another fashions a wooden hook to get at inaccessible goodies. Crow couples build complicated nests out of intertwined wire hangers or hair they methodically pluck from the manes of zoo animals.

High- and low-angle shots seldom specifically represent birds’-eye or people’s-eye views, but rather reveal an interactive exchange whereby each species watches and interprets the other.  “Waka” refers to an ancient form of poetry still widely popular today, and helmers Haptas and Samuelson, through their serene lensing and fluid editing, propose a visual thread linking the past to the present “as the crow flies.”

Film Review: 'Tokyo Waka'

Reviewed at Film Forum, New York, Aug. 21, 2013. Running time: 63 MIN.

Production:

(Documentary — Japan-U.S.) A Stylo Films production. Produced by John Haptas, Kristine Samuelson.

Crew:

Directed, edited by John Haptas, Kristine Samuelson. Camera (color, HD), Haptas, Samuelson; music, Todd Boekelheide; sound, Haptas, Samuelson; sound designer, Pete Horner.

With:

(Japanese, English dialogue)

More Film

  • Korea Box Office Weekend: ‘Default’ Wins

    Korea Box Office: ‘Default’ Wins Again, ‘Nutcracker,’ 'Mortal Engines' Fail to Excite

    Korean-made financial drama, “Default” remained on top of the South Korean box office for the second consecutive weekend. The CJ Entertainment release earned $4.95 million from 631,200 admissions between Friday and Sunday for a total of $19.9 million after two weekends on release. “Bohemian Rhapsody” also remained in second. The Fox release earned $4.79 million [...]

  • Ventana Sur: Meikincine Picks Up ‘Just

    Ventana Sur: Meikincine Takes ‘Just Love,’ ‘Super Crazy’(EXCLUSIVE)

    BUENOS AIRES — Lucia and Julia Meik’s Buenos Aires boutique sales company Meikincine has acquired international sales rights to two of the more mainstream Argentine propositions at this year’s Ventana Sur: Andy Caballero and Diego Corsini’s “Just Love,” and “Re Loca,” the Argentine remake of Chile’s “Sin Filtro.” The “Re Loca” deal is for world [...]

  • Priyanka Chopra Variety Power of Women

    Ivanhoe Pictures Boards Priyanka Chopra’s ‘The Sky is Pink’

    “Crazy Rich Asians” producer Ivanhoe Pictures has come on board Priyanka Chopra’s family drama “The Sky Is Pink.” Ivanhoe will co-invest and co-produce. Fact-based, “Pink” is written and directed by top director Shonali Bose and is based on the life of motivational speaker Aisha Chaudhury. The film is Chopra’s first in India since her U.S. [...]

  • Aquaman

    China Box Office: ‘Aquaman’ Sinks All Challengers With $94 Million Opening

    The decision to release “Aquaman” in China two weeks prior to its North American outing paid off handsomely. The DC Comics adaptation achieved a massive $94.1 million opening in three days, according to data from Asian entertainment consultancy Artisan Gateway. The early release meant that the film played against weak opposition – tired Hollywood and [...]

  • Alfonso Cuarón, Emmanuel Lubezki Discuss the

    Alfonso Cuarón Details 'Roma' Cinematography With 'Gravity' DP Emmanuel Lubezki

    As part of an overall push to bring Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” to awards season voters, Netflix’s “‘Roma’ Experience'” played host to guild and Academy members Sunday in Hollywood. The all-day event featured panels focused on the film’s crafts and an audio-visual installation akin to the streamer’s FYSee initiative for Emmy contenders, featuring costumes and art [...]

  • IFFAM: Erik Matti Hatches Plans for

    IFFAM: Erik Matti Hatches Plans for ‘On The Job’ Franchise

    Filipino director Erik Matti is known for his eclectic body of work that includes “Honor Thy Father” and “Seklusyon.” His 2013 effort, “On The Job” travelled widely and won several awards including two at the Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival, and was nominated for an SACD Prize at the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight. Matti is at [...]

  • Joan Chen attends the season premiere

    Joan Chen Talks Diversity in Hollywood, Welcomes #MeToo

    Chinese-American actress, writer and director Joan Chen says that she was flattered when Time magazine described her as the “Elizabeth Taylor of China.” When asked at an in-conversation event in Singapore on Saturday whether she paved the way for Chinese actresses to follow in Hollywood, Chen said, “We never go to work because we want [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content