Out of the many powerful issues depicted in The Cove, one of the most shocking revelations was the willingness of the Japanese government to feed mercury-laced dolphin meat to unknowing citizens and school children. Despite the Japanese government knowing the devastating effects of mercury poisoning in food after the incidents in Minamata in the early to mid-1900s, the fact that they were willing to sell and promote this unsafe meat shows just how far the government was willing to go in order to maintain its tradition of dolphin hunting. Food is usually seen as life giving and beneficial, but as shown in The Cove, it can turn into something destructive when providers are deceitful. The Cove uses the dangers of the dolphin meat as food to vilify the Japanese government throughout the documentary.
Mercury poisoning has a history in Japan, starting with the outbreak of the disease in Minamata starting in the 1930s. The Cove emphasizes this fact, and condemns the eating of dolphin meat because it contains a high amount of mercury. They reveal that the government is selling dolphin meat under the label of “whale meat”, thus hiding the truth from their citizens. The documentary shows footage of a typical grocery store in Taiji while revealing this fact, a common scene to which many of the viewers can relate. By showing these scenes, the documentary allows the audience to better sympathize with the message it’s sending and makes the issue of mercury poisoning seem more relevant to the people watching the movie.
The documentary also interlaces scenes depicting the victims of mercury poisoning from another documentary, Minamata: The Victims and Their World, while having a narrator explain the effects of the disease. The purpose of showing the victims is to shock the viewers, and this effect is only further enhanced by the documentary’s choice to show mainly children with the disease. Children born with the disease are especially effective when portrayed as victims because they had no opportunity to do anything wrong and were merely victims of an unfortunate situation that, according to The Cove, was caused by the Japanese government’s willingness to lie to its citizens.
Following the montage of Minamata scenes, the documentary shows an interview with a Japanese government official who denies accusations that the dolphin meat being sold may cause mercury poisoning to those who consume it. Establishing a face to the entity that the documentary has been portraying as a villain throughout the movie allows the audience to better contextualize the issue and makes it clear to viewers who the “bad guys” are in the situation.
The Japanese government is shown to be especially deceitful when the documentary reveals that they knowingly include the harmful dolphin meat in school lunches, which are mandatory for the students to eat. The documentary shows clips of ordinary Japanese school children eating lunch to make the situation seem more real to viewers. School lunches are something that almost everyone can relate to, and the fact that the children are unwittingly being poisoned raises a sense of alarm and outrage to those witnessing the tragedy.
Food is a universal commodity that everyone can relate to, and people tend to take for granted that the food they eat is safe and healthy. The fact that the Japanese government takes advantage of its citizen’s trust by feeding them poisonous meat is the catalyst that The Cove uses to inspire sympathy for its cause and emotion in its audience.