Twilight of the Cockroaches


Director: John Payson


Directors: Hiroaki Yoshida

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Joe's ApartmentGads, I've seen Roger Ebert praise some of the junkiest films on earth, I even admire him for it, & since his lucky late-in-life marriage has left him happy & joyful & no longer lonely & secretly imbittered, he's become forgiving of such awful stuff, as if unwilling to hurt the feelings of failures.

Given what a pushover he has become, I was startled to see him joining the jaded Professional Critics Crowd dumping on Joe's Apartment, which is a marvellous piece of goofiness very easy to love. It started out as a short subject. With funding from MTV it was turned into a feature length film featuring a filthy New York squat apartment full of partying song-&-dance cockroaches.

Joe's ApartmentEverytime the cockroaches burst into yet another snappy showtune, I was so impressed the songs were actually pretty great. Joe's personal story is not as captivating as what the cockroaches are up to, but Jerry O'Connell (from Judging Amy & other abysmal shows) as the cloyingly fresh-faced boyish midwest naif is the perfect foil for the cockroaches, who right away pull a Gulliver on him & tie him to the floor while he's unconscious.

The hysterically funny cockroaches take a liking to Joe & decide to help him with his lovelife & everything else, since he seems not to be able to take care of himself. If anyone loved Tom Disch's short story "The Roaches," you'll recognize the story in all things except the lightheartedness of this film; Disch's story is creepy, but this film is damned sweet & can make you laugh so hard you'll get cramps.

A poker-faced serious version of Joe's Apartment is the animated feature film Twilight of the Cockroaches. This is anime at the highest level of storytelling. Like a lot of anime, including that of the much-lauded Hayao Miyazaki of Spirited Away fame, the animation judged separately from the story isn't particularly advanced, but taken in concert with the story it is perfection. The animation design is by manga artist HiroshiĘKurogane. The story & overall direction is by Hiroaki Yoshida, who curiously has never directed anything like this since, which is a shame.

The visual perspective is always that of the cockroaches, & the background is live-action for the human characters. Cockroaches are numerous in the apartment of divorced Saito, whose loneliness & depression have left him close to suicidal. He is unable to clean up his apartment so lives & pines & drinks alone in the filth he has generated.

From the point of view of the cockroaches, Saito is a kind overlord who seeks only the happiness of cockroachkind. The younger generation of cockroaches has known only peace & plenty, with no one out to kill them, & junkfood cartons scattered everywhere like manna.

Then Saito finds a girlfriend & begins to come out of his long depression. He begins to clean up his apartment & get his life back on the path to happiness.

But from the cockroaches' point of view, God's wrath has descended, & Saito's helpful girlfriend unleashes a veritable holocaust upon the stunned colony. Visual references to Hiroshima & Auschwitz drive the point home.

A gentle girl-cockroach has never before known terror or unkindness. Naomi is bewildered what they could have done so that Saito no longer loves them. There is a very moving sequence in which Naomi goes upon a pilgrimage to consult one of the old Gods (a discarded toy bunny), praying for understanding.

Although the violence of this anime is bloodless, it is extremely sad, & probably too "heavy" for young children. The cruelty is unfathomable to the cockroaches, who struggle in open warfare to survive. The forces against them are too large, & Naomi will see the end of all things she loves.

As a parable of war, it is as relentless as the real thing. As a fable of faith, it is all too familiar from the human world that turns to a God who if real could not possibly hear our small confused cries of anguish, & even if there is a greater plan, few of us will survive long enough to see its effect.

copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl

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