An expansive take on the world in miniature, Jessica Oreck's documentary debut pursues all angles on a novel subject — the Japanese obsession with insects — until it assumes a worldview. That such an approach could work for just about any aspect of existence (academia subsists on such blinkered, max-effort specialization) doesn't make its conviction of purpose any less admirable; or in the case of Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, anything short of bewitching. Equal parts playful and ponderous, the film looks at humanity through a bug's life and vice versa, marshaling the forces of history, poetry, philosophy, religion and pop culture to assert how "insects represent the entire history of a culture." Oreck eschews linearity for episodic bemusement, flying off, mothlike, in seemingly wayward directions but always landing with intention. She shows a little boy swooning over a $57 beetle queen, a Ferrari-driving hornet hunter, itinerant firefly-spotters, bonsai trimmers and zen gardeners, and many, many bugs in extreme close-up, with a sound track of crickets and cicadas — "crying insects" — vibrating through it all. Bug love might be a uniquely Japanese phenomenon, but the drive to collect is not — here, men hunt and hoard insects as they would baseball cards or comics. It's a complicated human impulse that can't be explained by nationalism or distilled into haiku. But there's enough wisdom in this appropriately compact film to suggest avenues of further — though likely not as wondrous — inquiry. (Downtown Independent)
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