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REWIND : Roaches Put Their Pest Foot Forward in 'Twilight'

November 17, 1994|JON NALICK

Any movie that casts cockroaches as sympathetic characters takes a huge risk of alienating its entire audience even before the opening credits roll.

But "Twilight of the Cockroaches," a funny, twisted tale of man-versus-pest told from the pests' perspective, proves that such wild risks can offer great rewards.

The Japanese-made film, combining live action and animation, chronicles the last days of a carefree tribe of cockroaches living in a sloppy bachelor's apartment.

The human bachelor coexists peacefully with the happy-go-lucky vermin, until he begins dating a woman who doesn't share his live-and-let-live approach to the scavengers. The roach squishing and bug-bombing that follow threaten to wipe out the entire cockroach tribe.

Naomi, a young cockroach (she's "19, in roach years"), is the protagonist of the tongue-in-cheek tale. She becomes embroiled in a love triangle and must choose between her loving fiance, Ichiro, and Hans, a brave warrior bug from another tribe.

She's one of the first to discover that some humans believe the only good roaches are dead ones. While out walking late at night, she's attacked by a woman with a rolled-up magazine. She escapes, but soon several other roaches are slain by a human.

Ichiro tells her not to worry.

"This must be an isolated case of madness," he says with conviction. "Humans love cockroaches."

But the tribal leaders begin to realize the times are changing and start rallying the troops for a full-scale counterattack. In one scene, the warriors prepare for battle, singing, "We are the cockroach soldiers, start a fight and we get bolder!"

The movie is also a visual pleasure, with lots of floor-level camera angles that provide a roach's-eye view of the world. And because the sounds made by the human characters are amplified ominously throughout the film, viewers get a roach's-ear perspective as well.

Many of the scenes mixing live action (the humans) and animation (the roaches) are wildly funny, such as the one in which the bachelor watches in drunken amusement at playful roaches throwing a massive party on his kitchen counter and coffee table.

Most people, even those who aren't hard-core roach haters, will probably derive a grim satisfaction from the scenes of cartoon carnage.

Still, the characters are likable and don't look terribly roach-like, so viewers may be surprised to find themselves actually rooting for the crawly critters.

Or maybe not.

"Twilight of the Cockroaches" (1987), directed by Hiroaki Yoshido. 105 minutes. Not rated.

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