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Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo -- Film Review

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You can add "Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo" to the ever widening "Who knew?" category in which documentaries seem to be trafficking these days.

This lyrical, meditative effort about the Japanese obsession for bugs of all kinds examines the subject from a deeply philosophical, historical and sociological perspective, forgoing the sort of snarky humor that could have permeated the proceedings. It's not surprising, considering that the filmmaker, Jessica Oreck, is an animal keeper and docent at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Currently receiving its U.S. theatrical premiere at the ever enterprising Film Forum, the film is a natural for eventual cable and public television exposure.

Beginning with a young boy's plaintive pleas to his father to buy him a pet beetle (for $57, no less), the film goes on to explore the amazing degree to which insects have permeated Japanese culture. Kept as pets; sold in stores and vending machines; depicted in videogames and celebrated in festivals, art and culture, bugs are regarded with a combination of fascination and reverence that would surely baffle, say, the average Manhattan apartment dweller.

The filmmaker is perhaps a bit quixotic in her approach to her subject, reaching back to ancient texts and the invention of haiku, among other things, to explain the phenomenon. Adding to the general air of intellectualism is the philosophical commentary offered by anatomist and bestselling author Dr. Takeshi Yoro.

There's no shortage of fascinating segments, such as one depicting the activities of a professional beetle hunter (it apparently is a very lucrative profession). And the cinematography -- vividly capturing both the chaotic density of the cities and the pastoral beauty of the countryside -- is frequently stunning.

Opened May 12 (Argot Pictures)
Director/screenwriter: Jessica Oreck
Producers: Jessica Oreck, Maiko Endo, Akito Kawahara
Director of photography: Sean Price Williams
Editors: Jessica Oreck, Theo Angell
Music: JC Morrison, Nate Shaw
Not rated, 90 min.