Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo examines the insect world from humanity’s point of view, focusing specifically on the world-view and behaviors of insect collectors in Tokyo. Jason Solomon of The Observer states, ‘It speaks of harmony, nature and the national culture, touching on the quintessentially Japanese philosophical notion of Mono no aware (and I hope I’ve got this right): a feeling of gentle sadness experienced at the inevitable fading of transient beauty’ (2011). Perhaps because of this perspective, Beetle Queen’s insects are anthropomorphized with specific comparisons between insects and human characteristics on multiple levels made throughout the film by various experts commenting on Japanese culture. But Beetle Queen goes beyond merely evoking emotions by humanizing insects of various species. The unequivocal comparison between the human and insect worlds promotes positive results in the film, encouraging a more interconnected relationship between humans and their environment that may manifest in real environmental preservation and restoration for both humans’ and nature’s benefit, at least within the parameters of the film. As Beetle Queen’s director, Jessica Oreck explains in Don’t Panic Magazine, ‘I want to share the immediacy of nature – not the idealized, simplified, and anonymous version we see in nature programs on TV, but a nature populated with human characters and personal connections’ (Mokoena 2011).
As the film portrays it, the devotion to nature inspired by Japanese philosophy, aesthetics, and connection to insects moves beyond a surface belief system to actions that conserve and replenish the natural environment. Because, as narrator Takeshi Yoro tells us, rice paddies are good for dragonflies, their disappearance was detrimental to both dragonflies and human culture. With less need for rice fields to feed people, rice paddies turned into cities, but the narrator explains, this loss motivated the Japanese to begin preserving streams and ponds around the city, rejuvenating the environment and community for national pride. ‘We learn from insects’, he explains. ‘If we open our minds to the insects, they will teach us. To learn is to change, so insects are more than pets. They represent an entire culture’. As the sun rises over the water, Takeshi Yorro highlights the interconnected relationship humans share with the insects and their natural world: ‘Observing change in insects connects with changes in nature. Their numbers are much fewer now, because the world is being destroyed’.
In Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo, Oreck tells us she seeks to ‘remind the audience that humans are animals’ to help us remember ‘it is impossible to separate ourselves from nature’ (Mokoena 2011). As she tells Independent Lens Blog contributor Shelby Biggs, ‘It seems that a lot of the environmental messages our society is pumping out are getting lost, either because we are preaching to the choir or because the scare tactics are working too well – and people come away feeling disheartened instead of inspired’ (2011). For Oreck, change occurs when people begin “to look at nature – not just glance at a picture or watch some aerial view of a world they have no connection to – but encourage them to pick up a leaf or a bug in their own city and really take the time to look at it, to understand it, to realize its place in the extraordinary complex system that makes up our environment” (Biggs 2011).
Although Mike Hale of The New York Times claims the film ‘says less about Japan than it does about America’s continuing fascination with modern Japanese culture’ (2010), Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo seems to move beyond the anthropomorphism found in Hellstrom Chronicle and and gives it a unique environmental purpose. By illuminating connections between humans and nature based on dispositions, emotions, roles, and philosophies of Buddhism and Shintoism, Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo seeks to demonstrate how anthropomorphism may have positive results for both human and nonhuman nature.