Do you know D.C.?
Get our free newsletter to stay in the know about local D.C.
Tokyo Waka: A City Poem is an ode to Tokyo. It’s also an ode to crows. The film explores quite extensively the habits of the crazily smart birds (there’s a fascinating, totally creepy bit in which one of the creatures whittles a stick into a hook, dunks it into a log, and pulls it up with an unidentified tasty morsel hanging off the end). It also shows some of the weirder characters and industries that populate Tokyo (there’s a homeless-by-choice woman living in a local park, a landscape architect, an otaku figurine salesman, and a waitress at a “maid café”). There are action shots of busy downtown streets, jammed with pedestrians and red lights and electronic billboards, and lovelier, idyllic scenes of graveyards, residential areas, and gardens. Interview subjects, who respond in Japanese, carry a studied reverence for their city. Over the whole thing, an ambient score alternates with the cawing of crows. The bird calls are so pervasive that, 20 minutes in, they’re no longer noticeable. But Tokyo Waka’s parallel narratives—the ornithological meditation and the sociological one—never quite cohere beyond a few man-on-the-street conversations about what crows mean to the Japanese. The filmmakers should’ve stuck to either animal or concrete jungle.