There is a common association between Japan and weird things. From bizarre toys to talking toilets, the west has become pretty obsessed by Japan, mostly to finger point and furrow our brows at crabs in vending machines and grown men dressed as school girls.
Great shows like Adam and Joe Go Tokyo and Jonathan Ross’ Japanorama have documented mad Japanese gadgets, trends, hobbies and much more. Such shows, while providing entertaining and interesting viewing, do not really provide any deeper insight into the often strange but distinct subcultures that exist in Japan.
It was therefore extremely refreshing to watch Jessica Oreck’s 2009 documentary, Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, a film that looks into a surprising Japanese fascination with insects and the culture that surround it.
Oreck’s film is unique in that it presents a little known aspect of Japanese culture with profound sensitivity and delicacy. This interest/obsession with insects has probably been overlooked by the western media because it isn’t really bizarre or messed up. At most, insect collecting could be considered a bit eccentric and maybe a bit introverted… though it’s certainly no stranger than stamp collecting or making model trains.
The Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo is also a really beautifully made film. The rich narrative is built up of several layers, combining images of insects and the countryside, explanations of some of the Japanese history and philosophy surrounding insects, interviews and recordings of insect collectors with their pets/specimens/in insect shops or out collecting insects, all mixed in with images of urban cityscapes, and everyday Japanese life.
All these layers come together to produce a very profound film, showing that the Japanese fascination with insects is more than just a mundane hobby: it forms part of an ancient connection between man and nature that is deeply ingrained in Japanese history, folklore and religion.
As the final voiceover explains:
‘Insects are more than pets, more than spirits in the cycle of reincarnation, more than the subject of municipal policy. Insects, in their miniscule being, represent the entire history of a culture. They are inscribed with all the impenetrable mysteries of nature and all the varying philosophies of the human mind.’
If anyone is interested in Japanese culture or wants to see a nature film that totally breaks with traditional formatting, I highly recommend Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo. It’s a documentary to kick back and relax to, a simple and beautiful illustration of one small aspect of Japanese culture.
You can watch Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo and hundreds of other great little-known films by signing up to MUBI.com and trying out their 14 day free trial! (Trust me, it’s awesome).
As ever, here is a trailer of this film:
Want to find even out more about the Japanese obsession with insects? Read this article from insectopedia.org http://insectopedia.org/yearnings.html