Despite the poetry its subtitle promises, the fascinating crows-in-the-skyline doc Tokyo Waka is more informative than lyric, which is not at all a complaint. Directors John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson have gathered a capital tangle of flock footage, anecdotes, and mad facts—20,000 crows in Tokyo, sometimes attacking civilians, stealing coat hangers, and snacking on the zoo’s prairie dogs! They’ve crafted this into an edifying whole, a film of beauty and revelation: Did you know crows are so smart they craft tool-like hooks from twigs, for use in digging insects from bark? Or that they know to chuck walnuts into traffic so that car tires crush the shells? Interview subjects aren’t the scientists you’d expect: There are artists who have made a project of corralling the flocks (and of painting the city’s rats to look like Pokémon); there’s the zookeeper trying to keep the birds from picking over a lion’s dinner; there’s the tender of a rooftop Shinto shrine worrying over how to keep the purification waters unsullied, until a neighbor takes up beekeeping, which offers a surprise rock-paper-scissors–style solution—bees beat crows. Little beats the wonder stirred here, though, when everyday Tokyo citizens contemplate their gorgeous infestation. Film Forum’s screening is preceded by Seth Keal’s appealing short CatCam, which, as the British say, does what it says on the tin: Curious what tomcat Mr. Lee gets up to outside the house, Jürgen Perthold invents a camera for his collar. The resulting photos—then video—offer an intimate, oddly artistic look into a private world.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 28, 2013