Do either of them have the brains to make sense of this situation?

Let's begin with an important scene in this short documentary by John Haptas and Kristine Samuelson: A scientist (or at least I think he is a scientist—he sits in what looks like a lab) holds up two transparent receptacles that contain the brains of two types of birds. The brain in one container is huge and the one in the other is small. The huge brain, we are told, belonged to a crow, and the small one to a duck. The crow's brain, which is double the size of the duck's, helps to explain why urban corvids are so bloody clever, why they can use tools to get food or the wheels of cars to crack open nuts. Tokyo has 20,000 of these birds—small compared to the city's human population (13 million)—and their beaks appear to be larger or more bulky than the ones we find in Seattle. But crows over there make the same horrible noise as the ones here—that throaty, soul-crushing, beak-blasting call.

In a key scene, young Tokyo artists drive around the city with a stuffed crow hanging out the window and fake calls blasting from speakers. Hundreds of crows follow the car in complete confusion. The stuffed bird, the recorded calls, the speeding car, the laughing artists—the birds do not know what to make of it. Should they bomb the automobile? Is bombing a car even a good idea? Why is that dumb crow flying so close to that funny car? More birds arrive and fill the Tokyo sky with even more confusion, more horrible calls. It seems they are looking for just one among them who has the brains to make sense of this situation and offer the correct course of action. But none knows what do. Crows are smart, but not that smart. None has the intellectual power to break the spell and finally see what's really going on: They are part of an art project. The whole business seems so cruel. Humans can be so mean.

In another scene, we watch crows building nests with clothes hangers in trees and on the tops of telephone poles. Crows apparently have a fetish for this and other human-made objects. They also, of course, love our garbage, and they are constantly watching us, trying to see what we are up to, studying our ways with their dark eyes, or hopping toward things we've turned our backs to or abandoned. The documentary is a poem—meaning it has no narrative structure or some crow specialist who consistently feeds us facts about the habits of this species. It only captures random moments, brief ideas, snatches of scientific information about the accidental relationship between them and us. Shot with raw video (the poetry is in the editing and not the cinematography), we see how we (or at least the citizens of Tokyo) feel about the birds—some love them, some hate them, some see them as a symbol of the cycle of life. Crows, like rats and pigeons, are synanthropic (with humans). Our cities have become their ecosystem.

In one of my favorite moments of the film, a man explains that he has seen a bored crow flying high up to the sky with an object in its mouth, dropping the object, diving after it, and catching it before it hits the ground. Being a crow is not all about finding tasty bits of food in our garbage bags. They not only have lots of free time on their wings but can also get bored with city life. They are human, all too human. recommended