It’s fantastic! It’s tremendous! It’s the riveting tale of a gigantic insect trampling Japan’s capital in a day, a dynamic throwback to the 1950′s classic monster flick! …No, sadly, it’s not. Rather, Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo is a plodding documentary about Japan’s longstanding obsession with bugs. It’s an interesting concept (especially for me, a compulsive admirer of Japanese history and culture), but amateurishly directed and tedious to sit through. The film begins promisingly, with a several-minute sequence inside a “pet store” where an adorable young boy picks out his very own insect to take home (who knew that bugs were like dogs?), but as Oreck runs out of ideas, she begins to recycle them with disastrous effects. The child and his family make multiple reappearances with nothing new to say, as does a bug-catching video game—educational the first time, mundane the second (and third, and…). Similarly, men trotting into the woods to find new species becomes a common sight. These are broken up by sporadic, monotonic short lessons about previous landmark moments; aside from the choice of narrator being a head-scratcher (the voice couldn’t be more dull), Oreck’s shaky editing further detracts from any sense of rhythm.
Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo is billed as working backwards through history to determine why insects are such an important part of Japanese lore, but the weak filmmaking prevents the viewer from feeling any sort of connection to the world. The aforementioned voiceovers are the only glimpses we get into how it all began, and then only from afar. Miyazaki’s Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind is a much better depiction of the topic matter, and it manages to portray it within the context of a swirling animated epic. That Oreck’s movie is so stiff and technical is really disappointing, as the potential existed for a strong, enlightening documentary about a unique part of Japan’s legacy. Instead, we’re left with a banal, repetitive picture that could have achieved the same result as a 30-minute college lecture.