Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo

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Beetle Queen PosterI *finally* got to see this movie, after waiting almost a year–it is now available on Netflix.  It was delightful, but not at all what I expected.

The Japanese have a profoundly different relationship with insects than Westerners.  This film examines why that is, and how insects are part of Japanese culture and history. We meet characters that range from a Ferrari-driving beetle dealer to little children caring for their 6-legged pets.

The LA Times described this movie as “a meditative piece that is by turns hypnotically beautiful and painfully slow.”  The director describes the movie as “about attention to detail, patience, and ultimately harmony – all of which are so rarely present in our modern lives.”   This film does not have a linear narrative or tell a story in the way we are used to Western movies conveying information. It’s not so much a documentary as a visual poem.

The contrast of busy Tokyo with the natural world; the J-pop sound track that alternates with insect songs; all of it contributes to a sense of paradox.  This movie feels like it’s dragging at points because we are too fast and impatient.

The film begins with this quote from a Westerner living in Japan in 1890:

“The people that could find delight, century after century, in watching the ways of insects, and in making verses about them, must have comprehended, better than we, the simple pleasures of existence.”  ~Lafcadio Hearn

Cross pollination of Zen Buddism and the native Shinto religion of Japan manifested as an aesthetic appreciation of insects in centuries of poems and music.   These spiritual roots created the philosophy of Kokugaku and “mono no aware“, sometimes translated as “the pathos of things.”    This philosophy emphasizes awareness and attention to the transience of all things, and appreciation of their beauty because of their fleeting nature.  What could be more transient than an insect, or the cycles of nature?

The film is narrated in Japanese, and the narrator has an amazing voice–you can listen to her reciting some poetry from the film here.  I especially liked this one:

Always more clear and shrill,
as the hush of the night grows deeper,
the Waiting-Insect’s voice;
- and I that wait in the garden,
feel enter into my heart
the voice and the moon together.

The only staged talking-head piece is an interview with author and anatomy professor Takeshi Yoro, who talks about his love for insects:

 “If you have eyes to see and ears to hear, they will tell you something.”

Yes. Yes they will.

Shut off your computer and go outside.
Don’t come back until tomorrow.