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TWILIGHT OF THE COCKROACHES

If ever a movie deserved points for originality and audacity it’s TWILIGHT OF THE COCKROACHES, a clumsy and sometimes crudely made mixture of live action and anime. It also happens to be a pleasing and thought-provoking film that should be a cult classic.

The Package
     The Japanese TWILIGHT OF THE COCKROACHES, or GOKIBURI-TACHI NO TASOGARE, was completed in 1987, and (briefly) released in the US via an English language version in 1990. The dubbed cut was prepared by Carl Macek, a specialist in English versions of anime (including VAMPIRE HUNTER D, ROBOTECH and CASSHAN). Unfortunately the Macek version, released on VHS by Mondo Pop (but NOT on DVD), is currently the only source for this must-see film.
     The writer/director was Hiroaki Yoshida, who subsequently directed the little-seen 1991 Oliver Stone production IRON MAZE. Since then, alas, Mr. Yoshida appears to have fallen into obscurity--not unlike this film.
     Incidentally, the film, obscure though it is, appears to have been somewhat influential. The novels UNNATURAL SELECTION/THE ROACHES HAVE NO KING by David Evan Weiss and THE COCKROACHES OF STAY MORE by Donald Harrington, both of which initially appeared around the time TWILIGHT OF THE COCKROACHES debuted on US screens, bear quite a few similarities with the film, as does the cult musical JOE’S APARTMENT (1996), which was admittedly inspired by it.

The Story
     Naomi is a teenage cockroach living in the apartment of Seito, a slob who never cleans up after himself and so leaves a paradise for the local roach population. Years earlier there was a conflagration, apparently caused by the former owners, who were far neater than Seito. Many of the roach colony’s elders recall the roach holocaust, but virtually all the other roaches have grown up in relative peace.
     Naomi finds herself attracted to a warrior cockroach her own age who resides in the apartment building across from Seito’s. That particular environ is owned by a neat-freak woman who zealously stamps out any and all trace of roach infestation. Naomi makes a perilous trek across the backyard to the woman’s apartment, along the way chatting with a talking dog turd and getting swept up in a mini-flood caused by a rainstorm. Upon reaching the place Naomi finds an environment far different from the one she grew up in: here cockroaches scavenge for food and live in constant fear of death.
     By the time Naomi makes it back to her home base, things have changed. Seito, it seems, has fallen in love with the mean lady across the way--and the latter demands he clean up his apartment! These two lovebirds arm themselves with cans of roach spray and go to work, nearly wiping out the entire roach colony. In the end only Naomi is left alive, and does her part to carry on the colony by birthing a new litter of roaches.

The Direction
     As unique and fascinating as this film is, it’s not particularly well made. The combination of live action and animation is striking but poorly executed, with the two-dimensionality of the animation thrown into extremely stark relief by the live action. The sound design is creative in the way it renders the sounds of the humans distorted and echoey, but the aural quality of the rest of the film isn’t much better, with sound levels that seem to vary from scene to scene. To be fair, that may be the fault of the English dubbers, who appear to have also reedited the film--and so made of it the poorly-paced mess it currently is.
     Yet director Hiroaki Yoshida nearly overcomes all those problems through his conceptual brilliance and fertile imagination. The animated roaches are wonderful creations: endearing human-faced critters who walk on two legs. The presentation of the cockroaches’ universe--of common household objects rendered gigantic and menacing, and a backyard creek seen as a raging river--is nothing short of brilliant. Seito’s slovenly apartment, with its rotting food and spilled wine, is presented as a sort of mini-Las Vegas for the roaches, and his bathtub as a beach resort.
     Yoshida claims the film’s cockroach colony was intended as a metaphor for modern Japan (with Seito the slovenly apartment owner as, presumably, the U.S.A.), and he makes pertinent points about everything from genocide, media manipulation and modern warfare. While it initially seems like a comedy, Yoshida takes the proceedings seriously, and you may find yourself surprised at how sad and impacting TWILIGHT OF THE COCKROACHES ultimately turns out to be.
 

Vital Statistics

TWILIGHT OF THE COCKROACHES (GOKIBURI-TACHI NO TASOGARE)
TYO Productions/Kitty Films, Inc.

Director: Hiroaki Yoshida (and Carl Macek)
Producer: Iwao Yamaki
Screenplay: Hiroaki Yoshida
Cinematography: Iwao Yamaki
Cast: Kaoru Kobayashi, Setsuko Karasuma, Atsuko Asano, Kanako Fujiwara, Masato Furuoya, Mitsuru Hirata, Tanie Kitabayashi, Takeshi Kusaka, Ichirota Miyakawa, Kozo Shioya
 

     

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