Today I was lucky to attend a special screening of the gloriously named “Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo” in Denver with the film’s maker, Jessica Oreck. She has taken a very artistic approach to natural history filmmaking, one well worth experiencing. Her subject: the Japanese’s almost-unnatural obsession with a very natural subject — insects.
This is an abstract, arty, and contemplative film that, though it takes no overt position on its subjects and never states it explicitly, poses the question: Why are the Japanese, alone among world cultures, so into insects? There is no pat answer. The filmmaker presents clues, and it is up to you, the viewer, to process what you’re given and draw a conclusion. The ordering seems important sometimes; confusing, contradictory, or enigmatic at others. Along the way, there are many scenes that are difficult to fit in — possibly by design — like jigsaw pieces that may or may not belong in the box. Many are beautiful little treats that can be savored visually in their own right. One short shot, possibly my favorite of the film, simply focuses on the soft patter of rain on water and shows an Escheresque and seemingly impossible illusion of the water moving both left and right at the same time. It must be seen to be believed.
It takes some patience, and perhaps repeat viewings, to fully digest Oreck’s film. In addition to the enigmatic scenes, the film is in Japanese with subtitles, and the subtitles sometimes move a bit quickly, making it tricky to take in both the visuals and the narrative at the same time. But the film was creative, original, and unique. Oreck said after the screening that she *had* to make the film — there was no choice about it. No one else had or would tell that story unless she did. I can relate to and support that kind of vision and passion. I’d rather watch 100 Beetle Queens than 5 McNature documentaries (*cough* Mcgillivray-Freeman *cough*). Oreck opens a window into a beautiful little world of beetles and a culture of insects that you’d probably never stumble upon otherwise. It was so heartening to see Japanese children actually playing with beetles instead of video games, learning to pin butterflies in school, and going along on insect catch-and-release expeditions or firefly appreciation trips with their parents as a fun way to spend a Friday night. If only we should be so lucky here. Recommended.