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 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
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.
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.
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
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.
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