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Tokyo Waka

Aptly subtitled “a city poem,” John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson's documentary is as much a carefully etched, lyrical portrait of Tokyo and its denizens as it is a full-fledged rendering of the surprisingly rich life of crows, here embodying the wild, adaptive animistic spirit of the city. Populated with telling moments that add up to an uncanny snapshot of a metropolis's “metabolism,” as one architect interviewed here puts it, Tokyo Waka takes its cues from the least visible of city scavengers: the crows that pick through garbage, cut stark black shapes in the sky, and build astonishingly intricate nests of purloined hangers. Drawing from art, culture, Buddhist and Shinto spirituality, and everyday anecdotes, the directors come at Tokyo's elusive crows from all angles, gathering remarkable footage of the whip-smart animals making twig tools to find juicy insects in trees, utilizing cars to crack walnuts, and pouncing on hapless passersby who happen to walk beneath their nests. Along the way, Haptas and Samuelson also construct an evocative encapsulation of a post-bubble Tokyo at a very particular moment-one where otaku maid culture, a homeless population, and a kind of youthful bohemia are finding their own precarious perches in the city, in parallel to flocks of omnipresent, intelligent avian outsiders.

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