Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Tokyo Waka: Crows and the Great Cycle of Life
love their kaiju monster movies in Japan.
Perhaps that has prepared Tokyo to live with the aggressive,
non-indigenous Jungle Crows that have made themselves at home there amongst the
tall buildings in recent years. Japan’s
Buddhist and Shinto traditions also help residents find a balance with their
winged neighbors. The mega-city’s people
and crows inspire John Haptas & Kristine Samuelson’s docu-essay Tokyo Waka (trailer here), which opens
today at New York’s Film Forum.
have long played a role in Japanese culture.
Evidently, loud speakers still broadcast a time-honored tune at 5:00,
warning children at play it is time to go home with the crows. A recurring figure in art and legend, a crow
is even the mascot of the national football (soccer) team. However, these transplants are a crow of a
different order. Known to whisk away
small mammals, they have forced Tokyo zookeepers to erect protective barriers
for their prairie dogs (seriously). They
have even been known to take a peck at humans whom they don’t like the looks
Waka is generally meditative in tone,
some of the crow footage is kind of creepy.
Haptas and Samuelson speak to residents of all walks of life, who are
forced to interact with the black birds.
Not surprisingly, some of the most insightful comments come from a
Buddhist priest, whose temple goldfish fell victim to one of the brazen
crows. He never begrudges them for
following their nature. After all, it is
all part of the great cycle of life.
also hear from zoologists, city bureaucrats charged with crow population
control, and students who have survived crow attacks. Together they piece together a mosaic of
Tokyo. Even with the risk of angry
crows, it is an attractively cinematic picture (lovely shot by Haptas and
Samuelson), incorporating Shinto shrines and the giant commercial neon
signs. The homeless woman representing
tent dwellers in the park is a good case in point. While surely there are unfortunate economic
reasons for her situation, she seems to have partly embraced the Bohemian
aspects of it. Indeed, making the most
of a difficult situation is arguably quite compatible with Buddhist and
Quiet and thoughtful, Tokyo Waka is still rather peppier than one might expect.
Co-directors-producers-cinematographers-editors Haptas and Samuelson
capture some striking images of the city and its crows. Stylistically, it is not unlike Jessica
Oreck’s Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo,
though it does not have quite the same charm.
Running just a tad over an hour, it is certainly easy to digest. Recommended for students of Japanese culture
and bird watchers, Tokyo Waka opens
today (8/28) at Film Forum, programmed with the bonus short film, Catcam.
Labels: Documentary, Jungle Crows