Finally watched the Cove

March 31, 2010


神倉神社
Originally uploaded by angrydicemoose

I originally wrote this as a comment on this blog post I found about the Cove, after I posted the comment, I noticed that Takepart.com had actually sent an email to the blogger which he followed up here. All three of the posts are must reads in my mind as it outlines issues the filmmakers of the Cove missed completely.

Anyway, I haven’t posted on my blog in a while, so I decided to just grab my comment and post it as a blog post.

Some background though, my maternal grandfather is originally from the town adjacent to Taiji (where “The Cove” is). Whenever I’ve visited the region, the people there have treated with amazing warmth and kindness. I had an opportunity to learn about Taiji’s whale hunting from a relatively young age. Having been educated in the United States, I could easily see myself as blindly joining in the anti-Japanese outrage stirred up by the Cove. It’s fun and easy after all and I love fun and easy causes. Unfortunately, the Cove is such a poorly researched movie that aims for entertainment. To compound the situation, people without an opportunity and/or an interest to actually learn are bound to swallow everything that the filmmakers of the Cove are serving up.

High mercury content in the food chain is definitely a frightening issue, I’ll think twice and thrice and not eat whale or dolphin meat and would not feed it to any child. The pollution of the waters is an important issue for a country like ours that is heavily dependent on the resources from the ocean. So’s the issue of overfishing the limited resources that are in the ocean. But, the Cove isn’t about that.

The fisherman of Taiji have been whaling since the 17th century. Before the Meiji Restoration while some Japanese did lead a vegan diet, a lot of Japanese led a pescetarian diet. It wouldn’t be a stretch to understand a diet including whale (and/or dolphin) meat was considered to be pescetarian.

My issue with the Cove (which I finally watched the other night) outside of outright falsehoods and lack of research is that I find their approach to be disingenuous at best.

While one would hope to make the assumption that the goals of the filmmakers were to educate their audience on dolphin hunting and capture in Taiji and to bring an end to this practice, I’m not so sure that the assumption would be true.

The filmmaker’s answer to the point that dolphin hunting is part of the culture is to reply that certain cultures are wrong and need to be changed, and that if it’s culture why don’t most Japanese know about it.

The fishermen of Taiji honestly take pride in their craft and have the highest respect of the dolphins even as they slaughter them. They have a whaling museum right on the waterfront (it’s hard to miss, it even shows up in the movie) as a tribute to their craft and the animals they hunt. To confront these fishermen without attempting to show any understanding for why they might hunt dolphins is nothing but an insult from the perspective of the fishermen, not the most effective way to start a conversation.

Any guilt that the filmmakers want to impose upon the fishermen isn’t going to be effective either. The guilt that the filmmakers feel is completely the filmmakers guilt. Remember, the fishermen take pride in their craft and hold the whales and dolphins in reverence, especially because the animals they hunt are noble and “intelligent”. While the practice might not always follow the teachings, growing up in Japan I was often taught that we should use all parts of whatever animal we eat, as there is no waste in whatever we catch.

This isn’t shooting buffalo from rail cars to them, it’s a craft and a tradition passed on that they are upholding. If anything, the fishermen on Taiji believe that they know more about dolphins than the filmmakers, so the filmmakers attempting to educate the fishermen by condescending is not an effective method.

There is no coverup about dolphin hunting in Japan, while it might be huge news for the filmmakers and anyone who has no understanding of Japan dolphin hunting just isn’t a big story that everyone in Japan feels the need to know. When I visited Taiji well before the Cove came out I learned about the dolphin hunting, but then most people in Japan have not been to Taiji. They might visit the Kumano shrines, but Taiji is pretty easy to mix. Dolphin hunting isn’t known nationally because it’s obscure, no one is trying to hide it. Because it isn’t practiced nation wide it is unique, but there is no coverup. The local newspaper does have an article about the hunt when it happens every year, the news just isn’t big enough to be national. Though this year with the uproar caused by the Cove, networks have put up stories here and here. The coverage has not been all positive towards the Cove.

Taiji is located in the Kumano region of Japan. In the Kumano religion, people look upon nature as their god, the waterfall of Nachi and the rock on Kamikurasan being examples but the whole Kumano region is considered to be holy. This isn’t a nationalist issue for the fishermen or the people of Kumano. It’s the natural response that the fishermen have towards outsiders coming in and expecting to be able to have their will imposed. The filmmakers were not welcome because they were being assholes, it wasn’t because they were against dolphin hunting.

The Japanese have held foreigners that come to engage in dialogue about environmentalism and nature in high regard. While C.W. Nichol is naturalized now and the Japanese do listen to him when he talks about environmentalism.

Attempt to impose anything on anyone and there’s a decent chance that the target would be unwilling. If the filmmakers truly wanted to be effective they would have done their research and found that a different route might have been more effective.

The filmmakers could have learned why the fishermen hunt dolphins, if the filmmakers showed their respect and their willingness to learn.
common ground on the issue and a route to engage in dialogue. The Japanese and the people of Taiji do care about the environment and conservationism. Making a levelheaded argument for the conservation of the resources provided by the ocean are something that the Japanese are increasingly concerned with (dolphins are not endangered now, I can imagine it will get harder to get species of dolphins classified as such).

Whether out of ineptness or by design the filmmakers chose to focus on only spinning a good yarn, whether that meant building cameras on rocks in them or creating “facts” when the reality did not support the storyline they were creating. The Cove is a fascinating movie, with the kind of research and storylines that would make Fox News proud..

Where they could have engaged in dialogue, the filmmakers did everything to offend and belittle people with whom they could have found a common ground. An issue that didn’t have to become a nationalistic one has now been turned into one. Once it’s reached that point, dialogue doesn’t matter as all sides aren’t interested in having any rational discussion, but only in pandering to their bases.

Having said that, there is no guilt on the side of the fishermen of Taiji, but it is a living they are making. The guilt is something that the foreign audience could better identify with. Boycotting Sea World and other zoos/aquariums that have dolphins could kill the business of dolphin capture.

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