Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Twilight of the Cockroaches (1987)

Twilight of the Cockroaches (1987, aka "Gokiburi-tachi no Tasogare", directed by Hiroaki Yoshida, screenplay by Hiroaki Yoshida. English version dialogue by Steve Kramer.)

Review By Goat Scrote

     There’s something about roaches that triggers deep revulsion in most human beings. Perhaps it’s right down in our genes to recognize them as an ancient enemy, a despoiler of food and invader of our homes. The cockroaches see things differently, of course. This is their story.
     “Twilight of the Cockroaches” is a a fantasy-melodrama about the fall of a cockroach civilization. It uses a fusion of animation and live action to tell the tell of a tribe of cockroaches living in a paradise: The apartment of slobby drunk Mr. Saitô (Kaoru Kobayashi), who treats them almost like pets. Paradise starts to unravel when  Saitô-san gets a girlfriend (Setsuko Karasum) and cleans up his act. The concept is similar to the later American film “Joe’s Apartment” (1996) but this movie is better.

ジョーのアパート (Joe's Apartment)

     The animation is cartoony, as you’d expect from a 1980s anime feature. The color palette is very dark. The animated cockroaches are highly anthropomorphic to help make them easier for us to identify with. We see the world from  their perspective at floor level and from inside cracks in the walls. Even a human toe seems to take on a gigantic scale. The score by Morgan Fisher is beautiful, especially the heart-aching main piano theme. The human characters have no dialogue at all but their expressions and actions speak for them.

Let's leave some Roach feces in this continental breakfast.
     Naomi is a young female cockroach, age 19 in roach years. Her peaceful tribe lives in harmony with their human host. Naomi and her fiancee Ichiro greet Mr. Saitô and he simply ignores them and drinks liquor. Food is plentiful and available to all, and they can travel safely anywhere in the apartment without fear. The cockroaches are having a huge party and Naomi and Ichiro have a discussion about moving in together. Life is happy and domestic for the cockroaches.

just call me an Asian Paul Lynde as Templeton the rat, "Smorgasborg, Forgusnord!"

     A strange roach appears, Hans, from a tribe in another apartment nearby. It looks like Hans has had too much plastic surgery. His people are trapped in endless warfare against the humans they live with.
     The local roaches celebrate Armistice Day, when their own war with humankind came to an end. The way the cockroaches tell the story, the other side retreated. The horrible roach-slaying family moved away and their “savior”  Mr. Saitô moved in. The roaches take a slightly superior attitude toward the tribes elsewhere who can’t seem to make peace with their human hosts. They are quite content, oblivious to the fact that it can’t last for long.

If I give her some money will she finally leave?

     Naomi finds out one of her friend is pregnant again by a new lover. What a cockroach slut! When Hans leaves, Naomi realizes she has developed feelings for him. She goes outside and meets a genteel talking turd. The stop-motion turd directs her after Hans. Ichiro and the others are concerned for her but a severe storm prevents them from following. After many trials in the hostile outdoors, Naomi arrives at the apartment where Hans lives.

offical Talking Turd action figures found in some China Town shops

     Life is hard in the other apartment. They must struggle for every bit of food. They drive away the human preparing a meal, but the family comes back armed with swatters and bug-spray. Hans throws himself in front of the aerosol can to prevent the spray from hitting others, and survives it. For some reason Hans has a heavy fake German accent even though his peers mostly don’t even try to pretend. He and Naomi quickly become a couple.
     Ichiro, back at the other tribe, is a little delusional and refuses to call off the wedding. A politician claims that God chose the roaches to inherit the world. The self-satisfied complacency of the peaceful roach tribe is apparent. Naomi accidentally gets carried back across the field to her old home in a purse, and Ichiro is overjoyed.

The S&M portion of a typical anime wedding.
     The wedding goes forward as if nothing happened but the human woman begins smashing the roaches mid-ceremony. The roach leader promises to meet with Mr. Saitô to figure out what happened. He soon ends up impaled on a dartboard, but that's not the only sign of trouble. The human girlfriend comes over armed with bags of supplies. The humans begin the genocide with clouds of bug spray. The roaches watch as the poisonous jet gets closer and closer, unable to believe what they’re seeing until too late. Whole families get sucked up in a vacuum cleaner. Oh the humanity!

What about the ozone, jerk?
     “Humans love cockroaches!” Ichiro insists, until he learns the true history of the tribe. The Armistice Day story is a lie made up by their leader. The reality is that Saitô has lived there since the old days. He was their great enemy until his wife and daughter left. Now that there is a woman back in his life he is going to begin the slaughter again. He even uses a rapid-fire pellet gun to shoot roaches.
     The other cockroach tribe shows up in force, their soldier in disciplined ranks unlike Ichiro's soft decadent tribe. Naomi reunites with Hans and the love triangle is revealed but they mutually agree to settle their personal issues after the war. That's pretty sensible!

     The soldiers attack the humans in force but they’re up against bug-bombs which fill the room with insecticide. Bug spray, bug powder, and stomping feet turn it into a slaughter. The humans have had enough and start dropping poison into the vents and spaces in the walls. Hans is the last of the soldiers to be crushed.
     The cockroach civilization is devastated. Naomi prays to the idol of her people, a toy rabbit, and the spirit of one of her ancestors speaks to her. An unmerciful God created humans to test the cockroaches, to refine them by culling the weak. It is Naomi’s destiny to carry her stronger traits forward. Ichiro finds Naomi but she gets blasted with poison. Ichiro is blown apart by Saitô-san’s pellet gun.
All praise Bun-Bun, Dread Lord of the Cosmos!

     Naomi is not dead, however. As a result of selective breeding among the roaches, she is more poison resistant than the others. She grows to old age after bearing a litter of offspring partially fertilized by both of the cockroaches she loved, restarting the cycle of cockroach civilization.
     It’s an odd little movie and the use of animation and live action together is inventive, especially for this era. The movie is clearly intended to be deeply thought-provoking but never quite got there for me. It’s a little bit depressing but moderately entertaining.
     3/5 - Slightly Recommended.

The female Titan is attacking!

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