It would be unfair of anyone who knows me to suggest that I suffer from entomophobia (fear of insects), or, more accurately, arachnophobia (fear of spiders or scorpions), but I do tend to have a visceral response when I encounter any sort of long-tongued, many-eyed, fluttering creature. To speak plainly, I find them revolting. I can even pinpoint a cinematic moment in my childhood when any latent feelings towards bugs I might have held inside, suddenly became manifest.
During the summer of 1977, somebody's parents dropped off a group of us neighborhood kids at the movies. I was eight years old. Despite my opposition, my best friend chose Empire of the Ants to test our mettle. Empire stars a bitchy, fetching Joan Collins (a pre-Dynasty warm-up role), who is stranded on an island populated by giant ants. The scene that sent me out of the theatre and into Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown, featured a close-up of the queen ant and her point of view -- the camera lens multiplying into a hundred tiny, octagonal eyes. It still makes me shudder.
During the intervening years, images in books and movies have, more often than not, reinforced my fear of insects, and the accompanying sense of disgust. From Patricia Highsmith's short story The Quest for Blank Claveringi, which supplies man-eating snails, to E.G. Marshall's mouthful of cockroaches in Creepshow (1982), my mind is populated with negative images of our friends the arthropods. (The good feelings imparted by a reading of The Cricket in Times Square are easily overwhelmed by the sight of Jeff Goldblum's botched transformation in The Fly (1986)).
In Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo though, a corrective has finally been made to quell some of my ignorance and bias against insects. This poetic documentary takes in the history of the Japanese people's obsession with all manner of insect life, especially fireflies, beetles, butterflies and dragonflies. Each one of these insects holds a place in their collective, mythic imagination, handed down over the centuries through literature and religion. The film offers many intriguing insights about the evolution of a culture, but does so by meandering into strangely allusive territory.