The Secret of the Cove: True or False?

            The Cove is a documentary film that challenges the practice of dolphin hunting in Taiji, Japan. The Cove is meant to bring public attention and call for a stop to the mass slaughter of dolphins. Most of the documentary is told through the point of view of Ric O’Barry, a former dolphin catcher and trainer and a current dolphin activist. O’Barry has become quite concerned and critical about the massive dolphin hunting practices in Taiji, where fishermen would drag dolphins into a cove that was hidden from public view to be killed. When O’Barry and other dolphin activists repeatedly tried to film the capture and slaughter of the dolphins, they clashed with the local fishermen. At one point, the fishermen claimed that by trying to stop the dolphin hunts, the dolphin activists were essentially trying to destroy a part of the Japanese culture.

            That single claim brought up a question in both the activists’ and audience’s minds: “If dolphin hunting is a part of the Japanese culture, do the general Japanese know about it?” To answer the question, the film production team begins to survey random people on the streets of Tokyo, Osaka, and other major cities in Japan. During the surveys, the camera focuses primarily on those who are being surveyed to capture their reactions to the question, “23,000 dolphins are killed for human consumption each year in Japan. Did you know about this?” During this sequence of shot, O’Barry and the translator are only seen, if at all, standing at the edge of the screen while the citizens of Japan take up most of the shot. Generally, the shots used are medium or close-up shots, thus allowing the audience to see clearly what expressions are made.

            The responses to the question all shared a similar quality: disbelief. Most people have bafflement on their faces as they answer that they had never heard of consumption dolphin meat in Japan. One young man quite firmly declares, “We don’t regard dolphin as food.” However, the most vocal of the interviewees was perhaps a woman in her late middle ages. After she is asked the question, her eyes goes visibly round as she answers, “You’re lying! Are they eaten? Really?” As the message sinks in, she edges back a little, adding, “If it’s really true, we should be making a big issue out of it. I don’t think anyone knows about it. I never knew.”

            By focusing the camera on the interviewees, the producers of The Cove have effectively direcs the audience’s attention on the shock and ignorance of the dolphin hunt. The Japanese citizens themselves have made the truth about alleged “traditional dolphin hunts” all too clear. As O’Barry commented, “How can it be their culture, their tradition, if the Japanese people don’t even know about it?” Though the documentary film may be heavily biased in favor of the dolphin activists, this particular sequence of shots, by focusing on the Japanese citizens, rather than the activists, is effective at persuading the audience to lean toward the activists’ cause.

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