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The Cove is a 2010 documentary about the slaughter of dolphins in the southern Japanese town of Taiji. It centres around the attempts of a group of environmentalists headed by the former trainer of the original Flipper dolphin (having since become an advocate for freeing captive dolphins), Ric O'Barry.
While I have never been to Taiji I have lived in Japan for the past seven years and my wife is Japanese, therefore I take offence when I hear people running their mouths about the Japanese and whaling. The majority of people who criticize an entire nation for the actions of a very small minority know nothing about it other than what they've read on some friend's status on Facebook. I very much wanted to see this documentary, but I was a little worried it would descend into Japan-bashing, something that people who have seen it have tended to do.
Taiji is a small port town on the Pacific coast a couple of hours west of Tokyo by train. It is exactly like hundreds of other small Japanese towns, with nothing much to set it apart other than that it is the world's biggest exporter of dolphins for aquariums around the world. What the town doesn't like people knowing, though, is that those dolphins that aren't selected by the various representatives of foreign aquariums are taken around the corner to the secretive little cove of the film's title and slaughtered. Their meat is then sold, in some cases passed off as whale meat.
The aim of the filmmakers is to get footage of this slaughter happening, despite the best efforts of the entire town (literally) to stop them doing it. They eventually achieve it, and it is brutal to say the least. However, no more so than the slaughter of any other animal.
The film focuses a lot on dolphins as an intelligent species, and while it was interesting to watch at times it felt a little like propaganda. Yes, dolphins are recognized as intelligent. But so are horses, and I don't see anyone campaigning to stop people killing them. There were one or two harrowing scenes in the movie clearly designed to make the audience react with outrage, yet you can watch a thousand videos of slaughterhouses on Youtube and they are just as brutal, if not worse. How many people tucked into a steak while watching this movie?
A couple of very relevant points were raised, though. First is the fact that the Japanese government is turning a blind eye. However, anyone who lives in Japan knows (probably at first hand) that the Japanese government is full of idiots (there's a reason why there's been five prime ministers in six years, and cabinet ministers are regularly resigning) and that they turn a blind eye to a lot of things. Anyone who's been here more than five minutes can see the millions of loopholes that companies and individuals can step through to take part in any number of shameful or illegal activities. But that's for another review!
Also, the representation of the people of Taiji emphasizes this, such as the fact that even the police regularly attempt to stop the filmmakers from going on to what is actually public land. Obviously there is money changing hands somewhere, because otherwise, like the police in my city, they wouldn't give a damn what people were doing.
And finally the fishermen themselves ... how the film makers held themselves back from kicking some seriously obnoxious butt is a mystery to me. All I'll say, though, is that the vast majority of Japanese people aren't like that. Most of the people I know are civil, thoughtful and sensitive. You get d&&kheads in every country, though, and in every country there are areas or niches of society in which they tend to congregate.
Personally, I'm not against the eating of whale meat in general. Few Westerners seem to realize just how deep whaling is in Japanese culture, being a staple part of the diet for many years, particularly after WW2 when a lot of people were starving. That they shamelessly continue to hunt whales for "research", goes back to that whole government-as-idiots thing I mentioned before. Inside the country, they're shameless about the meat ending up on the table too. There's a whale restaurant in my town and it's not trying to hide itself - there's a big picture of a whale on the door (although that's not all it sells). While I disagree with certain methods of killing, and I disagree with hunting endangered species, I don't particularly disagree with killing a sustainable animal for food, providing it's done humanely, which it can be. If the whale population is sustainable and the animals are killed humanely, why should the Japanese stop hunting them? The British won't give up beef, will they? Yet they're quite happy to sit and home behind their computers and moralise about another country's actions, a country they know next to nothing about.
However, a big point of hunting dolphins is that their meat is high in mercury, something that the film talks about a lot. This is reason alone to not eat the meat, and the fact that the film documents how Taiji's council tried to make dolphin meat part of school lunch (students all eat the same thing in Japan, right up to the end of Junior High at 15) just shows how backwards they are. Again, it's a government thing.
Thankfully, the film does highlight that most Japanese people have no idea of what goes on in Taiji, and my wife, too, had no idea. Overall it's a very good movie on a pretty dark subject, one that's very worth watching. It doesn't stray into Japan-bashing territory, although it does rip on the Japanese government a bit, something that even most Japanese people would agree with. I'm aware that I've gone off on a tangent a little bit, so you probably should watch The Cove for yourself and make up your own mind.
I watched the whole movie on youtube. Not sure if this is legal or not but it was there so I watched it. If you want to hold it in your hands though you can get it on Amazon for not a lot.
Remember Flipper? Remember the cute dolphins and the catchy theme tune? Remember the cool stuff that the animal trainers made the dolphins do? You do? Well so do a lot of people and that's why many centres manage to captivate audiences with trained dolphin performances.
The person who remembers Flipper most of all is Richard O' Barry who trained the dolphins who played Flipper and has regretted it ever since. His actions opened up the flood gate for dolphin trainers to pay huge sums of money for prize dolphins in order to train them and keep them in captivity. Richard O' Barry realised the damage dolphin training was doing and how unhappy it was making the animals and has spent most of his life trying to make amends for the time he spent as part of that industry. That is how he ended up making this Oscar winning documentary about Dolphin capture in the Japanese town of Taijii.
I didn't really know what to expect from this documentary and I don't want to spoil it for anyone out there who plans on watching it but I will state that in September every year, the town of Taijii commits a shocking crime that is protected by the fishermen, the police and the government. The crime now only involves the loss of life and suffering of thousands of dolphins but also is responsible for a public health problem that is being swept under the carpet in Japan.
This documentary will take you on a journey following activists in an attempt to capture footage against all odds and against extreme pressure from the people of Taijii and the police. They risk being imprisoned in Japan in order to capture footage that is shocking, brutal and upsetting. This documentary is well shot and engaging from beginning to end.
It is, however, extremely graphic in parts and could be upsetting for those of a sensitive nature and is not a documentary I would recommend showing to children due to the graphic nature.
This documentary gives you a real insight into the passion of these activists and an insight into the Japanese culture and system which this dolphin culling exists in. It is at times shocking and at times frightening when you see the extent that the people of Taijii are willing to go to in order to continue you with their way of life.
The activists take their concerns and footage to the highest level during the documentary and it will leave you feeling that you want to take action, too.
Won an Oscar
When we moan about high petrol prices we are effectively agreeing with Middle East oppression that keeps the price in our pumps low enough to enjoy the lifestyle and democracy we do in the west. The same can be said of watching a majestic Dolphin do amazing tricks at your holiday destination aquarium. We don't think about whether the dolphin is happy to be cooped up in the pool or doing tricks all day but because nature has awarded them a permanent smile we believe they are happy. It turns out they are not, the subject of this enthralling and rather sad tale of dolphins somewhat ambiguous treatment by man, and rather appallingly so in Japan, one or two of the dolphins rather enjoying the tsunami that swept in back in March, such is the barbarity towards them in the Japanese costal areas. Saying that it turns out Dolphins are just as nasty as men on their own patch, rape, violence and bullying nothing new in those beautiful schools of dolphins out in our pristine blue oceans. It seems we are all at it.
This Oscar winner (2010 Best Documentary Feature) centres on American Richard O'Barry, a man who captured and trained Dolphins for the TV show 'Flipper' back in the 1970s. He then help export that idea of dolphins being happy to entertain humans around the world to various Ocean aquariums after the popularity of the show exploded, and made a lot of money in the process. But here he is on a rather ironic journey, one of redemption through his film, spending the last 25 years of his life to help stop Dolphin captivity around the world for human pleasure. He says things changed when one of the five dolphins that played Flipper (Cathy) died in his arms, effectively committing suicide by refusing to go back under the water, this type of captivity too much for an animal that needs to cover 30 miles a day in the open ocean just to maintain its blubber and muscle mass to survive, hence those five Flippers in the four year run of the series.
The beginning of the film is the end of the dolphin's freedom, an infamous cove in Taiji, Japan where the animals are rounded up and slaughtered for cheap meat, if they don't meet the criteria to be captured and trained for the world's aquariums, the owners paying up to $170,000 each for the Bottlenose, the most popular around the world and the one with the set smile. Japan are not big on majestic sea creatures rights and will eat pretty much anything that doesn't breathe air - and anything that is not tasty they will kill anyway. It's what they have always done and no one can tell them any different. They did the same thing with whales in the 1970s and 80s as they are doing with dolphins right now and O'Barry is going to try and stop them, this film a strong slap around the face for Japan, some scenes quite disturbing as the ocean turns red at the end of the film.
The documentary opens at the cove where locals dependent on the lucrative dolphin industry guard their killing fields with top security; the beach and cove fenced off and guarded every night by the zealous fisherman, mostly from the threat of animal rights activist like O'Barry trying to film the unseen slaughter. Over the years people have got through and made their point but usually chased off by a man with a harpoon, anyone who dare film, filmed back and taunted into hitting the fisherman so they are banned for life from the cove by the Japanese authorities, the only objective. Money and greed always trumps everything for most men.
But O'Barry has a plan, to film the slaughter by hi-tec stealth, and with the help of experienced filmmakers they intend to sneak down their in the dead of night and hide and disguise cameras and microphones all across the bay, and under it, some shaped as rocks, others as shrubs, to bring the truth to the world. If they can achieve that then they can finally put a lid on the highly funded Japanese fisheries propaganda machine that pay off smaller countries that join the International Whaling Commission to back Japans controversial fishing quotas, a tactic that has helping to insert a loophole in the rules so Japan can catch whales and dolphins for 'scientific reasons, 23,000 caught last year alone on that absurd premise. Whale is a delicacy in Japan.
Dolphins, alas, are not, the meat seen as blue-collar gruel in Japan, and often toxic. Because Dolphins are at the top of the ocean food chain their eatable blubber is often full of the oceans toxins. Alarmingly, the fisherman were giving away dolphin meat to schools to earn favour with the local councils on the costal communities to turn a blind eye to the slaughter, putting the kids at risk to all manner of poisonous substances, including mercury, a practice which resulted in Manumits Disease, which killed thousands in Japan back in the 1950s and 60s through the same practices. At one point the Japanese fisheries even claimed that dolphins and whales were responsible for falling world fish stocks and so should be killed for that reason alone, Japan, the worlds biggest catchers of fish, of course! Again, the Japanese just don't care for the marine eco system.
Excellent documentaries like this only come about because we need to revere the subject matter and feel sympathy for it, dolphins adorned with many traits the humans have, why we love them. But they are not the highly intelligent animal we think they are, their appeal more about that fact they are self aware, able to learn basics tasks, something very few creatures can do. They still bang their heads and wear the wrong hats like Laurel & Hardy. The legend of swimmers and surfers being saved by dolphins from sharks just adds to the mystique, but the Dolphins really just asking us to leave the area like a bouncer. We value wildlife like us and the ones with the attributes we aspire to have. Wild Tigers fit that category, yet Tigers eat Indian farmer's everyday for fun.
But the real story of the rape of the ocean is mankind's commitment to capitalism, the need to consume and consume and not come up to the surface to take a breathe to let the oceans recover not in our mentality. The oceans are producing food so what's the problem? We are selfish. By 2050 the oceans fish stocks will have crashed, 78% of the third world still dependent on fish in their diet. But we collectively accept that we are going to ride that wave to destruction and that's the end of it, and if the Japanese are going to cull one of the oceans most beautiful creatures then they will get more stick than those who slaughter the ugly stuff in another country. We value the pursuit of protecting beauty over fixing poverty.
As we age guilt and regret gets the better of us and we try to correct our past mistakes. O Barry's quest is admirable but you do wonder if the people really want to see dolphins any different and happy to see them in the seaquariums. The fact this move barely made one million dollars in cinemas and on DVD backs that up, out of sight, out of mind the attitude, which is a shame. Refreshingly it was released in Japan although there were protests and it didn't get scene much, even US airbases too afraid to show it in fear of upsetting their hosts.
The film certainly has a big affect on you and the mindless slaughter of dolphins for meat that's pretty yucky is very sad. Yes some scenes were 'encouraged' and enhanced by both sides and they each wanted both to be taken in a bad light. The activist argue that dolphin killing is unnecessary and cruel whilst the Japanese say it's what they have always done and so will protect their industry. Not surprisingly the Japanese fishing industry was embarrassed by The Cove and 'pinged' a few PR and Legal drone strikes at the filmmakers.
Although this film is about that slaughter of an animal deemed to cute by the west to eat its also about Japanese pride and not be told by the rest of the world they cant, perhaps taking on what they see as humiliation the real reason why they go on killing things they don't really want to eat. Either way you should watch this to have your own opinion as the kill is going on right now and it's horrific, a different kind of red sun rising in Japans turbulent ocean shores. Although not remotely suitable for kids it is they who need to see exactly what is going on so to change this in the future. Sometimes you are just ashamed over your fellow man.
The Seattle Messenger -"A taut, thrilling documentary that plays out like a heist movie while never overshadowing its message or activist credentials"
The Times - "The great strength of this documentary about the covert killing of wild dolphins in Japan is its aesthetic: artful edits, zippy music, even a few jokes. Radical stuff for an eco-documentary"
The Australian - "One of the most suspenseful documentaries ever made, "The Cove" marries ecological espionage to a frightening domino effect of imperialism, political corruption and a socio-environmental disregard".
The Sun - "No Hollywood film, fiction or non-, can ever prepare you for the reality of what goes on in that cove. Please don't show this film to young children. Devastating and excellent".
Imdb.com - 8.5 out of 10.0 (12,876 votes)
Metacritc.com - 84% critic's approval (92% user's approval)
Rottentomatos.com - 96% critic's approval ratings (86% user's approval)
"All social change comes from the passion of individuals" - Greenpeace co-founder.
A film only review.
This documentary was particularly hard to write about objectively given its nature. Whale hunting generally is a very emotive issue and stirs up strong feelings in just about anyone with any sense of empathy.
It focuses on one American (Ric O'Barry) and his determination to highlight the dolphin hunting and slaughter which is carried out in a small town in Japan called Taijii.
The dolphins and porpoises are rounded up by the fishermen using sound which distresses and confuses them. Not surprising, given that underwater sonar is vital to all marine mammals. Some of those captured are then picked to travel abroad to a life of captivity in aquariums and the kind of places where dolphin loving people like you or I can pay to swim with them. These dolphins are sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars each, and the process is relatively public in Japan.
Those that don't make the grade are herded into a cove and kept there overnight. The fishermen return the following morning and carry out a wholesale slaughter. That definitely isn't public, and that is what Ric and his crew want to gain footage of.
I'll start by putting my cards on the table and reel off a few preconceptions I have about Japan and her people. From the top of my head:
They're orderly and quiet and like queuing just about as much as the British did about, say, 50 years ago.
They're frightened of diseases so much they wear masks in public which make them look ridiculous.
They're nearly always very short.
Culture and traditions play a large part in the Japanese way of life.
They're hard workers
They make reliable cars.
They're no good at football
And on a serious note, they are one of the few nations who still insist on whale hunting, under the auspices of scientific research, despite overwhelming condemnation.
If I've offended the sensibilities of anyone with my Pearls of Wisdom list, it would be best if you don't read on, because that's nothing compared to how outraged you'll feel after watching this documentary.
What is a whale?
The closest thing to a regulatory body the whaling industry has is The International Whaling Commission. Set up in the 1940s to provide conservation of whale stocks, it can in theory provide for the complete protection of a certain species of whale. In 1986 they decided that the catch limits for all commercial whaling would be set to zero.
Sounds simple enough,but the ban on whaling, whilst a big step forward, was flawed. The biggest problem is that the IWC has never defined what a whale is. This has resulted in the smaller cetaceans like dolphins and porpoises not being included in the ban, despite the fact that they are card carrying members of the whale family.
Those whose livelihoods came under threat from the whaling ban, simply moved on to the unprotected dolphins and porpoises. According to this film, in 1987, a year after the IWC ban, Japan had tripled its capture of dolphins and porpoises (and continued that of the larger cetaceans under the guise of lethal research). Over 23,000 are now culled every year in Japan, a trade that even many Japanese know little about. The meat is then sold, often
Back in the 60s, O'Barry was responsible for capturing and training the dolphins used in the Flipper programme. It was through this that he grew to understand how intelligent they were, and how much they hated being kept in captivity. In one scene in the film, he describes the turning point when he believes one of the dolphins being used in the show committed suicide by swimming into his arms rather than carry on breathing.
Now Ric's anti-captivity epiphany might seem rather trite or glaringly obvious to most of us, but in all fairness this was in a different era. If you consider that back in the 70s, most women who could afford to, wore fur and had no qualms in doing so. And lets not forget that Harrods was able to get away with selling cute little lion cubs to Joe Public (one called Christian made for a fantastic documentary). Put in context, Ric seemed ahead of his time.
So is he just another crazy American intent on getting closer to nature, like those that get too close to bears, or wrestle alligators?
No. He comes across in the film as someone who passionately believes that dolphins deserve so much better than human behaviour currently allows them. He has been to Taijii before, to protest and try to gain footage, sometimes accompanied by camera crews, once with a reporter from The Times, but every time he has been unsuccessful, stymied by the fishermen and local police.
Ric tells of one time he had no camera with him, and the fisherman took a dead baby dolphin and cut it's throat in front of him.
The films director, Louis Psihoyos is Executive Director of the Oceanographic Preservation Society. Their shared interest and the narrative of the film is twofold.
The early scenes of the film may well put you off, with Ric and the others travelling by car in disguise. They're all wearing those face masks so beloved of the Japanese and big sunhats too. The reason being, should anyone realise they are all Caucasian they would be instantly suspicious. It smacks of a cross between a low budget Matt Damon film and Inspector Clouseau.
Things improve though and I found myself getting drawn into Ric's plans. They need footage of the wholesale slaughter to wake the world up to the wrongdoings going on here. Specialist underwater cameramen will have to hide cameras in the rocks in the cove, and the planning that has to go into gaining any footage of the cull is meticulous. Unsurprisingly, access to the area is prohibited and made difficult by padlocked gates on the only access road. It seemed as if every time the team try to sneak into the cove after dark by shinning over fences and climbing rocks, they're very nearly caught by the patrolling security guards or fishermen. Do they get the footage they need? I'll leave you to find out yourself if you are to watch the film.
The film is a balanced documentary, and goes to some length in a second narrative to explain the political machinations that surround Japan and their country's desire for whaling.
Chicken shit bureaucracy
Anyone who's ever watched Eurovision will be familiar with the concept of countries being bribed, and votes being rigged. Unless you're Terry Wogan, though, who cares? In the case of the IWC, the same takes place, but with very real consequences for the worlds marine wildlife. In an effort to gain sympathetic votes, the film explains that Japan has enlisted countries as diverse as Cambodia, Eritrea and Laos to the IWC. In essence, providing they support Japan when it's necessary, they will receive financial benefits. The film makers interview one member state, Antigua and Barbuda, who were also invited to join by Japan. Have either of the delegates seen a whale in Barbuda, they are asked. They look at each other and the man answers: he may have seen one once. In return for Barbuda joining the IWC, Japan built a monstrous fisheries complex on the tiny island. The locals use it to keep their chickens in.
One argument the Japanese have thrown at the film is that hunting a whale is no different from killing chickens or cattle for human consumption. Any animal killed should obviously be despatched humanely, but that doesn't address one of Japans main problems. They're shown in the film as believing that they should have unlimited access to the worlds marine stocks, at a time when those stocks simply cannot cope. Virtually all meat that humans eat is from a sustainable source, even if their living conditions are sometimes appalling. The same can't be said for marine mammals. Japan is seen as wanting to be able to whale hunt on a scale which simply isn't sustainable.
To castigate a country, and their traditions is easy from a long distance, but how did the Japanese themselves react to the film?
Not very well is the easy answer. A search on the net reveals that there were angry protests outside three Japanese cinemas which forced the planned screenings of The Cove to be cancelled. The protesters had claimed the film is anti-Japanese.
It's pleasing to note that a group of journalists and academics condemned the protests as underscoring "the weakness of freedom of speech in Japan" and urged that the movie be allowed to be shown without further incident.
One regional court near Tokyo later stepped in and banned protesters from demonstrating.
Sadly, despite all the fuss made in Japan, it was only released two months ago, and to date very few Japanese have had the opportunity to watch it.
For the sake of fairness, I've tried to think of any possible criticism which could be levelled at this film. It does indeed focus on Japan, and not for instance other countries such as Greenland or even parts of the US which still whale hunts. (Under the terms of the IWC whaling ban, the indigenous people of Alaska and Washington state can still hunt them in small numbers for food). In all likelihood though, the film wouldn't make for such interesting viewing.
One of the issues highlighted is Japan's stubbornness towards change, despite being vilified, and claiming that whaling should continue unabated as it is traditional. Well, just because it's traditional doesn't make it good. Times change, and people often become more enlightened and change their ways. Japan, however, despite being a powerful Eastern economy, and market leader when it comes to anything technological, still retains an appalling record of animal abuse.
Ironically, it's modern environmental problems that is slowly ending this tradition. Tests have revealed that the dolphin meat which has been caught in Taijii is so saturated with toxic chemicals, especially mercury, that it isn't safe for human consumption. Two local councillors agreed to be filmed (putting their lives at risk) explaining how they have raised their concerns to such an extent that the meat, which is often missold as whale meat, has been taken off local schools menus, and people are refusing to buy it.
High levels of mercury can be to blame for, amongst other things, increased levels of oestrogen in both men and women. I shall take some consolation then in thinking that the men that eat the most dolphin meat, will hopefully end up with the biggest man boobs.
2010 Oscar winner for Best Feature Documentary, and nearly 30 other award wins and nominations.
Available from as little as £3.97 online if you wish to buy from Amazon.
The IWC website, and two other organisations mentioned in the film which are taking a stance against whaling and dolphin culling:
note: also appears in part on Flixster, thanks!
2009 saw the release of many great films, such as The Road, Inglourious Basterds, District 9, and (500) Days of Summer, but no film affected me or involved me as much as The Cove, a stirring expose of the crass dolphin hunting practises in Japan. I am no environmentalist, nor a vegetarian, and it's a testament to the power of this film that I was effected so prominently by it. This is one of the best and most effective documentaries ever made.
The film's primary focus is on Ric O'Barry, a former dolphin trainer for the TV Flipper, and the show greatly explores his own guilt over his contributions to the "dolphin phenomena" spurred by the show. He therefore feels responsible and has decided to try and stop the cruel and inhumane dolphin slaughter in Japan. They have targeted a cove in Japan, where dolphins are lured and cruelly slaughtered en masse. I am not against the slaughter per se, but the manner in which it is done - which is shown in full at the film's climax - is as horrifying as anything in a horror film. There are also several suspenseful espionage sections, where the activists sneak into the cove at night to plant cameras to capture all the footage, and it's as entertaining and tense as anything out of a Bond film.
Documentary or not, The Cove is the best film of 2009, chillingly exploring the cruel dolphin slaughter in Japan in an affecting and engaging manner that's sure to anger everyone from vegans to meat-eaters. Equal parts suspense-thriller and talking heads doc, this is a supremely convincing, utterly horrifying and incredibly moving film.