Internet service company to show ‘The Cove’ in Japan, where protests canceled screenings

By Yuri Kageyama, AP
Thursday, June 17, 2010

Internet service company to show ‘Cove’ in Japan

TOKYO — Japanese will finally get to see “The Cove” — but as streaming video on the Internet, not at movie theaters, as screenings of the dolphin-hunt documentary have been canceled due to loud nationalists’ protests.

Niwango Inc., a Tokyo-based Internet services company, said Thursday the Oscar-winning documentary that depicts the annual dolphin hunt in the small village of Taiji will be shown on its site Friday free of charge.

About 20 theaters in Japan had planned to show the film but canceled, one by one, after protesters made threatening phone calls and screamed slogans outside the distributor’s Tokyo office and other spots.

Nationalists oppose the film as a denigration of Japanese culture. It has been shown at the Tokyo International Film Festival and other more private screenings but has not opened at theaters.

Niwango said it will invite an exchange of views by e-mail and Twitter and will air another show Monday outlining the film’s controversy with speakers, including Kunio Suzuki, a nationalist who has mixed feelings about the film but believes it should be shown.

“The film raises issues,” Suzuki said in a statement on the Web. “Of course, there are parts of the film that are discomforting for us as Japanese. But, more than that, it offers lessons for us. We simply know nothing about the dolphin hunt.”

The film, which stars Ric O’Barry, 70, a former dolphin trainer for the “Flipper” TV series, shows a handful of fishermen herd a flock of dolphins into a cove and spear them to death as they writhe in agony.

O’Barry, who is in Japan this week to speak about the film to universities and other select groupings, apologized for the secretive filming methods.

But he told The Associated Press that he plans to bring Hollywood stars, who support his cause, back to Taiji in September to make sure no dolphins are killed in this year’s hunt.

Some journalists and academics have publicly protested the cancellations, calling it a violation of the freedom of expression.

The theaters say they are worried about security and complaints from nearby businesses. Japan tends to encourage harmony-loving conformity and is not well-equipped to deal with disruptive behavior. For decades, extremist groups have succeeded in getting their way by being loud and menacing.

The Nikkei, Japan’s top business daily, said in a front-page opinion piece Thursday that it is a shame the film is not shown.

“A work of genius, a flop or a monstrosity — the film must be seen first,” it said. “If it is forced to be canceled throughout Japan, that only hands a medal of honor to a very cleverly made propaganda work.”

O’Barry believes Japanese people deserve to have the option of seeing what he called an entertaining film that has won many awards, including this year’s Oscar for best documentary.

“This is an assault on democracy,” he said in an interview earlier this week. “They can make up their own mind about this film that the rest of the world has seen and approves of.”

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