Today’s selection: Twilight of the Cockroaches (1987, dir. Hiroaki Yoshida)
Subgenre: Animation Hybrid
Available from: Sony (VHS)
Reposting an old review:
Twilight of the Cockroaches is one of those forgotten Japanese classics that used to come on American TV with some frequency, but never got an R1 DVD release, much like its common double-bill, Robot Carnival. I hesitate to call it “anime” because the film is a hybrid of live-action and animation, a predecessor to Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Cool World, though without making the distinction between real and cartoon clear to the characters within; the only animation is of the titular cockroaches.
The movie belongs in the same allegorical category as Animal Farm or Maus, telling the story of a tribe of roaches that live a carefree lifestyle in the home of Mr. Seito, a sloppy divorcee completely apathetic to the infestation. The roach elders warn the youth with wartime stories of human vs. roach from three generations prior, but go largely ignored until Hans, a roach from a neighboring apartment, is found injured in their territory. Despite the fact that roaches are being killed there by the hundreds, Hans feels compelled by a sense of duty to defend his homeland, and returns there, but not before winning the heart of Naomi, our narrator. Without a word to her parents, friends, or fiancé Ichiro, Naomi crosses a large yard to follow Hans to this living Hell. (In the yard, she gets directions from a talking turd, a scene that felt really bizarre and out of place in a somber film about genocide.) Eventually, the owner of the apartment that Hans lives in and Mr. Seito start to date one another, and without warning, the peaceful lives of the first roach tribe are turned upside down. There’s roach motels, poison spray, and old-fashioned squashing as the cast of characters is wiped out with Darwinian brutality. The movie ends with Naomi as sole survivor, praying to a plastic lawn bunny that the roaches perceive as God.
I can understand why it hasn’t been remembered in the US, since it’s really depressing and most anime fans are looking for something fun, and the only major name attached is Yoshitaka Amano, who did character designs. It did inspire a US remake, Joe’s Apartment, for MTV in 1996, though that was a comedy utterly devoid of the original’s subtext.