Dolphin-hunting movie ‘The Cove’ to start showing in Japan despite protests

By Jay Alabaster, AP
Monday, June 21, 2010

‘The Cove’ to screen in Japan despite protests

TOKYO — “The Cove,” an Oscar-winning film about a dolphin-hunting village in Japan, will be shown in the country from next month, despite pressure from nationalist groups that caused several theaters to cancel screenings.

The domestic distributor, Unplugged, said Monday that six theaters around the country will start showing the movie July 3, with 16 more to show it later.

Initial screenings of the film at three other theaters were canceled early this month after protests by nationalist groups, who say the film is anti-Japanese, distorts the truth, and has deep connections with a militant anti-whaling organization.

The issue erupted into a broad debate on freedom of speech after those theaters pulled out to avoid disruptive protests on their doorsteps. National newspapers widely condemned the cancellations in editorials, and prominent film makers, journalists and lawyers publicly urged theaters not to back down.

“We’ve increasingly been hearing from ordinary customers, who protest and say it is better that we work to show the film so that people can form opinions after they’ve seen it,” said Takeshi Kato, president of Unplugged.

Japanese nationalist groups, known for blasting slogans from truck convoys and handheld loudspeakers, often use the threat of protests as leverage. Several such protests were held in front of Unplugged’s offices in Tokyo, and twice outside Kato’s home, he said.

Similar protests two years ago against “Yasukuni,” a movie about a controversial war shrine, at first led to theater cancellations, but later made it one of Japan’s most successful documentaries.

“The Cove,” which won the Oscar for best documentary, stars Ric O’Barry, a former trainer for the “Flipper” TV show that is now a dolphin activist. It documents how a group of filmmakers use hidden cameras to capture bloody footage of a dolphin slaughter in a small fishing village.

In Taiji, the town where the hunt occurs, the local government and fishing cooperative defend dolphin hunting as a local custom with a long history. The mostly bottlenose dolphins killed in the hunt are not endangered, and hunts are also carried out in other parts of Japan — although very few Japanese have ever eaten dolphin meat.

Taiji fishermen have objected to being shown in the film without their permission. Nationalists have said the film has connections to Sea Shepherd, an anti-whaling group that has been labeled a terrorist organization by Tokyo for its militant actions against Japanese whalers.

The movie includes a sympathetic interview with Sea Shepherd founder Paul Watson.

In the version of “The Cove” intended for release in Japan, the faces of most Japanese are blurred out, unlike the U.S. version. Disclaimers have been added, including one that says that data presented in the movie were gathered by and are the responsibility of the film’s creators. The movie cites information about mercury levels in dolphins and falsely labeled dolphin meat that has been challenged by government officials.

O’Barry, who is in Tokyo to promote the movie, denied the film is against Japan.

“My greatest hope has always been that the Japanese people will see the film and decide for themselves,” he said in a statement.

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