The belle of the festival, Tokyo Waka has sold out at every single SFIFF screening. It begins with one man describing the life of his fat, sedate goldfish. One day, he explains, he went out to the pond and the fish was gone. Next to the pond was a crow feather. The man describes the crow with admiration for nature’s way of expanding the experience of life.
This is the film’s repeating refrain: the clever and uncontrollable crow as an agent of natural disruption in a culture that requires absolute control – and how Tokyo’s various cultures cope with both the city’s huge crow population and its struggle to embrace change.
In the not too distant past, Tokyo had a crow population of over 38,000, but now it’s closer to 20,000. Through individual stories from Buddhist and Shinto priests, homeless people, punk artists, otaku, women working in “maid cafes”, the elderly, zoo managers, city planners, garbage bag designers, crow euthanizers, schoolchildren and even city beekeepers we learn that that in Tokyo, the crow lives everywhere – and meddles with everyone and everything.
The denizens of Tokyo have found interesting lessons in learning to adapt to something they can’t control – especially when they describe how the crows just keep outhinking the city’s behavioral control countermeasures.
As the stories are told, beautiful footage shows the glossy black tricksters in blossoming cherry trees, snatching hair off of living animals, making tools in Tokyo parks, operating water faucets for each other, dive-bombing pedestrians and convincing random cars to drive over and crack open walnuts for the birds to eat.
And that is much of the film’s joy: learning more about these clever, playful birds and their fascinating role in Tokyo culture. I’ve always been a big fan of both crows and Tokyo, and I didn’t know the depth of Tokyo’s relationship with its crows. Plus, the footage of so many places and poeple in Tokyo is a sheer delight.
This beautiful film will be with me for a long time.