Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo: Not a Monster Movie, but a Paean to Bugs

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 this case, anything short of bewitching. Equal parts playful and ponderous, Beetle Queen looks upon 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, moth-like, in seemingly wayward directions but always landing with intent. 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 soundtrack 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.