[Marxism] Anti-Dolphin killing movie shown in Japan

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Oct 23 11:14:18 MDT 2009

(I reviewed this at: 

NY Times, October 23, 2009
Tokyo Journal
Film on the Dolphin Hunt Stirs Outrage in Japan

TOKYO — For years, dolphin hunts off the seaside town of Taiji, 
which turn coastal waters red with blood each winter, have drawn 
the ire of Western activists. But few among the Japanese public 
seemed to care, or even know, about the slaughter.

That could change with the first public screenings here of “The 
Cove,” an American documentary that used hidden cameras to film 
Taiji’s annual dolphin hunts. On Wednesday, Japanese moviegoers 
got their first glimpse of it at the Tokyo International Film 
Festival, held here this week.

Taiji is not the only community that hunts dolphins, thousands of 
which are killed across the world either by intent or by becoming 
ensnared in fishermen’s nets. But Taiji’s fishermen are notorious 
drive hunters, banging on metal poles to herd panicked dolphins 
into a cove, then spearing them to death in what protesters 
describe as a gory bloodbath.

Japan killed about 13,000 dolphins in coastal waters in 2007, 
according to the fisheries agency, of which about 1,750 were 
captured in Taiji. Japan also hunts whales by using a loophole in 
the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling that allows whales to be 
killed for research, though the catch from its research fleet ends 
up in Japanese supermarkets.

“I was outraged. The footage of the sea turning bloody red was 
especially shocking,” said Yukiko Ishizawa, 18, a college student 
in Tokyo who saw the film on Wednesday.

“I’d seen the meat sold on the market, but had no idea Japan was a 
big dolphin-hunting nation,” said Taro Oguchi, 29, an office 
worker. “Whether or not Japan should stop is one thing,” he said. 
“But we should at least be aware these hunts take place.”

Despite the film’s enthusiastic reception at the festival — a 
round of applause broke out at the end of the film — it is unclear 
whether it will spark a wider public debate. Whale and dolphin 
hunting is considered an important part of Japan’s traditional 
livelihood and culinary culture, a practice to be defended against 
foreign interference — even though only a minority of Japanese eat 
whale meat, and even fewer eat dolphin.

There is also a strong taboo in the Japanese news media against 
any criticism of the country’s farmers and fishermen, often 
depicted as heroic defenders of a way of life that is fast 
disappearing. Coverage of the film has been sparse, and its 
producers have yet to find a distributor willing to put it on 
wider release.

The Tokyo Film Festival initially rejected “The Cove” as too 
controversial, but reversed its decision at the last minute after 
lobbying from Hollywood heavyweights like Ben Stiller, who has 
taken a personal interest in it. The festival, however, screened a 
disclaimer stating it had nothing to do with the film’s production.

“The feeling here is that the world needs to respect cultural 
differences,” said Testsu Sato, a professor in environmental 
management at Nagano University. “Why should there even be a 
debate on this issue?”

The fishing cooperative at Taiji had demanded that the festival 
drop “The Cove” from its program, accusing producers of 
trespassing on private property to film footage and of making 
false assertions. The town has hired a lawyer and was preparing to 
take legal action, an official said Wednesday. The lawyer, 
Shozaburo Ishida, did not return repeated requests for comment.

Meanwhile, the dolphin hunts will continue as planned through the 
season that runs from September through February, Japan’s 
fisheries agency said Wednesday. At their first hunt in September, 
Taiji fishermen captured 10 bottle-nosed dolphins out of a pod of 
about 100 to ship live to aquariums, while about 50 pilot whales 
were killed and sent to market.

Taiji’s mayor, Kazutaka Sangen, has advised fishermen to carve up 
whales and dolphins in indoor facilities so as not to provoke 
activists further, according to the newspaper Yomiuri.

Still, the film’s makers called Wednesday’s screening a coup, and 
a first step toward raising awareness of the hunts among the 
Japanese public. The crew, which included a pair of free divers 
and a “clandestine operations” organizer, used fake rocks to hide 
the cameras and microphones off Taiji’s coast.

“The secret is out,” the director, Louie Psihoyos, said Wednesday. 
“The reaction was amazing. People came up to me to ask how they 
could help.”

Mr. Psihoyos has said that he would give Taiji the profits from 
any further screenings in Japan if it ends the hunts and switches 
to whale-watching or other businesses.

The switch will not be easy in Taiji, where dolphin meat accounts 
for a third of the town’s roughly $3 million annual fishing 
industry. The people of Taiji have hunted coastal whales for 400 
years, according to the local whaling museum, and the town’s men 
serve as harpooners and sailors aboard Japan’s whaling fleet. 
Dolphin meat is a local delicacy, served raw as sashimi or boiled 
with soy sauce.

In recent years, however, the town has become increasingly divided 
on dolphin hunting. Laboratory tests have shown high levels of 
mercury in the flesh of dolphins and pilot whales that were caught 
and sold in Taiji, prompting some local markets to remove them 
from their shelves.

But even those findings have not been widely reported in the 
national media. Many in the film audience were shocked to learn 
about high mercury readings in dolphin meat.

“I’m never going to eat dolphin again now that I know about the 
pollution,” said Mutsuko Otake, 55, a Tokyo homemaker.

“But I was most shocked to find out that Japan has been getting a 
bad name, without us knowing about it,” she added.

Yasuko Kamiizumi and Ayasa Aizawa contributed reporting.

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