Manhattanites will be stunned by the sight of people taking bugs into their apartments—gleefully, even. But the Japanese citizens of this delightful documentary (the feature debut of a well-liked animal keeper at the American Museum of Natural History) make no apologies. Respect for insects runs deep in their culture, we learn. Jessica Oreck’s serenely abstract movie, a distant cousin to Chris Marker’s anthropological Sans Soleil (1983), approaches its subject via some bizarre, wondrous images: little boys squealing over giant rainbow-shelled beetles while an adorable puppy looks on, dejectedly; shopping malls filled with the accoutrements of collection and care.
Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo coyly avoids certain connections that might have been fun; this is a society, after all, that created Mothra (as well as the two tiny princesses that sing lullabies to it). But the avenues it does go down are lovely and suggestive. Zen gardens, banzai trees, the art of haiku—indeed, the whole of Japanese minimalism becomes a setting for these multilegged scramblers, imbued with Shintoist wisdom for those who would look and listen. By movie’s end, you see flocks of umbrella-adorned commuters in a different light; and what’s often viewed as Japanese humility becomes a doorway to something huge and eternal. Bring the kids.—Joshua Rothkopf
Watch the trailer