Saturday, October 24, 2009

Controversial New Documentary Film: The Cove

(Image borrowed from

There has been much talk about the new documentary film, The Cove, which depicts the alleged slaughtering of dolphins in a small Japanese village. The film brings to the forefront the age-old question of cultural traditions versus animal rights. Do the Japanese have the right to kill and eat dolphins? How about whales? How about blue-fin tuna?

Here are some sections of a recent article about the new film from Japan Today:

"The Cove" gets mixed reaction from Japanese audience

"The Cove," a U.S. investigative documentary about dolphin hunting in Wakayama Prefecture, made its debut in Japan on Wednesday, with the movie’s director describing the work as a "love letter" to Japanese people informing them of the adverse health effects from eating dolphin meat.

The film, which has prompted criticism of dolphin hunting in the western Japanese town of Taiji following screenings in countries such as the United States and Australia, was shown as part of the lineup of the 22nd Tokyo International Film Festival.

Director Louis Psihoyos flew into Tokyo for the festival despite worries that he might be arrested on trespassing charges from making “The Cove.” Police have repeatedly questioned the secret shooting of key footage in the documentary.

The fishermen have blocked access to the cove with barbed wire and fences, and Psihoyos was unable to get permission to access it. So he and his film team secretly broke into the restricted area—which is in a national park—at night to set up cameras that capture the slaughter.

“It’s very courageous of the Tokyo film festival to show this film,” said Psihoyos. “I’d also like to thank the Japanese government for not arresting me when I came in. I was pretty nervous yesterday, and I’m still a little nervous about getting out.”


Organizers at the Tokyo film festival clearly wanted to distance themselves from the film. A disclaimer stating that the festival had nothing to do with the production of “The Cove” ran at the start of the screening, and festival officials prevented journalists from interviewing viewers, herding them off the premises of the event in Roppongi Hills.

Japanese people who watched the movie showed mixed reactions, with some calling afterwards for a halt to the dolphin hunting and others raising questions about some of the ways the film was made.

"It’s a movie that takes up a difficult issue," said Mai Miyashita, a 32-year-old housewife living in Tokyo. "I can only say that dolphin hunting should be stopped immediately...although I do not think it will be easy because the livelihood of people in Taiji depends on it."

Rikako Yamane, a 21-year-old university student from Tokyo, said she was shocked to see footage of dolphins being killed by fishermen, but added that she felt the movie was lacking in the presentation of objective data as well as the voices of people in Taiji.

Tempei Miyaji, 26, a university student who lives in Germany, expressed concern that the scene of the dolphin killing was taken covertly.

"I cannot deny that (the movie) is evocative, but there may be some parts that are exaggerated," Miyaji said. "It would have been good if it had included what local people have to say and become something that would lead toward a resolution through talks."

Junko Inoue, a resident of Saitama, said she found the final scene, where dozens of dolphins trapped in a hidden cove are speared by fishermen, turning the water blood red, “shocking.” But she didn’t think the hunt should be stopped entirely. “There are a lot of cultural differences in people’s eating habits,” she said.

“Westerners say it’s OK to kill and eat cows, but not dolphins,” said Hiroshi Hatajima, a 42-year-old office worker from Tokyo. “That kind of special treatment isn’t going to register with a lot of Japanese. We have to eat animals to survive. It’s a cultural clash.” The film, while well-made, “comes across as somewhat propaganda-like,” he said.


At a press briefing following the screening, Psihoyos praised the film festival for its "courageous act" to show the film, but noted that the move was made possible due to the change in government in Japan that ousted the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

"Three months ago, it would have been impossible to show this film. The LDP...was an oligarchy and the outgoing powers did not want this film shown," he said without further elaboration.

Read the whole story and reader comments at Japan Today:

The film brings up a lot of interesting issues in both its subject matter and filming methods. And it certainly does not hide its own bias.

For more information about the film:

Sundance Film Festival webpage:

The Cove webpage (includes a trailor):

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