Author Archives: aaronn58

Flipper ruins the world, and mercury poisoning is bad too

The Cove is a 2009 film by Louie Psihoyos about the slaughter of dolphins in Japan. Lead by former dolphin trainer Ric O’barry, the film is an insightful look into the evils of dolphin fishing in Taiji, Japan.

the man was one flipper how cool is that?

the man was one flipper how cool is that?

What starts off as a tour of the secret killing cove by O’barry, swiftly becomes a covert operation to showcase the rampant slaughter that was a yearly custom at that point. Dragging together various Hollywood and ocean specialists, Psihoyos and O’barry successfully place cameras throughout the killing cove, and capture the slaughter for the whole world to see. This is shown parallel to a number of interviews by Psihoyos of various people of interest including the Japanese deputy of fisheries, and the IWC chair members legal adviser. By juxtaposing these two moments we get a skewed view of the conflict between O’barry and Psihoyos against the Japanese government, and the film skillfully forwards its ideas as being better for human and animal rights.

flipper2

A portion of the film focuses upon a proposal to get  schools  to use dolphin meat found and harvested in Taiji to feed children. To prove this is a bad idea we are given various statistics from food officials who state that the amount of mercury meant to be in dolphin meat is 0.4 ppm. Upon being given samples of various meat samples sold in Taiji, Tetsuya Endo a health university officer at Hokkaido determines the mercury ppm to be 2000 ppm, well over the limit and in his words “very,very toxic”. This showcase of the incredible deadliness of the meat is another point for proving the futility of dolphin slaughter. With the meat being more deadly to humans than nearly any other fish, the reasons for eating it becomes very construed and traditional, instead of being based in logic. The fact that Minamata disease is a well documented case of the evils of mercury poisoning should be a warning to others not to go down the same route. Luckily a pair of town council members stopped the movement from going forward, however it still doesn’t make up for the ludicrous of the proposal in the first place.

In the movie its explained that one of the main reasons behind the continual slaughter of dolphins has to do with the town culture. O’barry reputes this by saying this is only a modern idea, and that they’re only doing it for the money. When taking into account the various shady dealings the Japanese government has had on behalf of the dolphin industry (including bribing various small poor Caribbean nations with large million dollar fishing houses) it seems ridiculously important that this tradition continue regardless of the intention or the benefit of the act. Its possible that the government may be doing this as a way of getting back at westerners for interfering with their culture since the 1940’s, with fishing being the one vestige unchanged. But why should fishing be the one ideal? Even with the extremity Japan has gone through for food throughout history, there are a variety of other unchanged Japanese concepts that could remain sacred from westerners.

place in point

place in point

I was confused as to why the small poor Caribbean nations gave their votes to Japan in the first place. Surely there had to be a greater reason then to be just for the money. As a former IWC member said, the majority of the “gifts” the Japanese gave are being used for means other then shipping, so why all the work for a large useless house? Why not better prepare the world for environmental destruction? With the amount of poison in the sea increasing every year, and with the fishing industry having as many problems as it does,(not only with the slaughter of dolphins, but sharks,whales, turtles etc) their votes could potentially help the global community better itself for a long term fishing stabilization. Yet it these smaller countries continued to let japan walk over and vote for them, letting an economic powerhouse continue to dominate. This is a matter of which the film does not delve deep enough.

In conclusion, I find the film to be a thorough documentary about a heist of information. The fact that the Japanese government used and enabled the town of Taiji is sad, but I’m sure there’s more information to be had. One of the larger criticisms I’ve had of the film is its inability to see why the Japanese did what they did. Besides money (which O’barry said they denied greater money to stop working at one point) and tradition (which I find silly and frivolous) the movie lacks reasoning as to why the Japanese spent millions of dollars on a scheme to enrich a small town, and potentially kill tons of people. Despite this, I still find the film to hold a seminal place in our readings as a great example of a film that explains Japanese culture and some of the darker tendencies of the people. Alongside the factory ship and my year of meats, the film helps us understand the food culture of japan.

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Propaganda and old people

In all instances of war propaganda is an important mainstay. The ability to sway people to one side of a conflict via the use of media, or the use of a certain beloved character can be especially damning. The use of the myth of Momotaro in the 1940’s makes me all the more disappointed that someone would use the myth to build a community based on such a negative emotion as hate.

In the Sazanami version as well as the national Diet Library version, Momotaro is found by an old couple in the mountains. The wife finds a giant peach in a river after washing clothes, she then brings the giant peach inside to present as a gift to her husband, right before cutting it upon a cry emerges from the peach, and Momotaro is found to be inside. From thereon, Momotaro is raised by the old couple as their own, and somewhere upon turning fifteen he goes out to slay an island of Ogres who are causing destruction upon Japan. Along the way he meets animal companions who he wins over with millet dumplings, and he returns with untold treasures after his victory. As you can tell, these versions of the myth lack much warlike structure or propaganda. While there is a battle, and a large genocide of evil ogres is committed, the violence is never shown, and Momotaro is shown to have won by using his wit and kindness to his animal warriors to defeat the ogres.

From this very standard origin the 1942 movie Momotaro’s Sea Eagle was created. Unlike the Sazanami or National Diet version the movie lacks the beginning of the tale, showing Momotaro already leading his very modernized army against oni. From there, the movie shows the multitude of animals having fun, being goofy, and getting ready for the attack on the red oni army. When they began their attack you’ll notice there is a striking resemblance of the oni army to the pictures of pearl Harbor. To reinforce this idea very Hawaiian slide guitar is played right before the bombing occurs. After the bombing we see multiple caricatures of American forces being drunken and cowardly, and Momotaro’s army wins with no casualties and a happy musical number.

In portraying the American forces, Momotaro’s Sea Eagle also makes an interesting decision to include a caricature of Bluto from Popeye in the picture. In using Popeye they’ve created a way to identify the enemy is most definitely American. By making Bluto a drunk they assert America is slovenly and worthless, compared to the superior non drinking, cute animal army of Momotaro’s forces. Bluto also waves the stars and stripes off a almost American flag, turning it into a giant white one which he waves to try and stave off the destruction. Again the use Bluto as a portrayal of drunken, cowardly American forces makes the contrast between the armies that much more severe.

In Comparison, all the Japanese forces are cute animals, by making them present war as a near acceptable thing to have. Since it’s only cute cartoon characters shooting super realistic weaponry its not as bad as presenting the near human Bluto trying to stave off the cute smiling animals. Another note is that Momotaro himself doesn’t commit an act of war in the film, while he plans and acts as leader for the operation, he doesn’t kill, nor pilot a plane for war, leaving all of the actual atrocities to be commuted by the cute animals. This could be interpreted as the filmmakers own idea as to Emperor Hirohito’s position in the war, being that Momotaro’s gear looks very regal and dress like in comparison to the practical jumpsuits of the animals, it could be a way to make the Emperor come off better in the light of the Japanese public, though Momotaro doesn’t hurt anyone in the text either.

As a tool of propaganda, the film creates the illusion that destruction for the behalf of the near emperor like Momotaro makes it all okay, and that the consequences of such acts are not severe, and that it can even be fun (As shown through the numerous scenes of the childlike animals goofing off over and over again). Showing the drunken Bluto as a large ugly caricature of American culture makes it easy to root against the dying soldiers, and by injecting a small loss (that of a bomber plane with some of the animals in it) we are given a reason to hate the antagonists despite there never being any real danger in the film.

screen shot one

By utilizing a beloved childhood figure in the propaganda, the filmmakers create a sense of bonding with the heroes before the film even starts. In America characters like Daffy duck, and Captain America were used as propaganda tools to poke fun at the opposing forces to give the same sense of superiority that the Momotaro films gave the Japanese. In the early days of cinema, Children and parents alike would flock to watch films starring their favorite cartoon characters, by using popular characters as a mean of creating a more positive image of the war effort, there becomes a strong bond between the viewers of the film. There exists both an attraction to the film itself, as well a sort of projection between the viewers and the cute little animals (in Momotaro’s sea Eagle this is shown by the crowds of plain looking creatures which resemble the crowds of Japanese) making it easy to unite yourself with Momotaro since you and the creatures are so much alike. This is also helped by having the film be mostly bereft of dialogue, making it easy to insert yourself as one of the countless animals without a voice.

The lack of a voice is also interesting because in the Sazanami version of the myth the different animals have there own dialogue and motivations for joining Momotaro. The monkey out of loyalty, the dog out of fear of Momotaro, and the bird due to Momotaro’s admiration of his flying abilities. In each case they are rewarded with millet dumplings, and they are all totally sub servant to Momotaro. Eventually they all annihilate the ogres, and they do so only with Momotaro’s planning, as Momotaro never kills a single person in the tale, as this aides the seemingly high wisdom that Momotaro has gained after being raised by the old couple in the mountains. The animals never once speak about having to kill countless enemies, and the idea of death is never discussed. This allows one to emerge yourself in the story, Momotaro’s lines are always of saving japan, or of peace between the animals. This paints him a person only looking for the best in the Japanese, and that is a near universal thought in the heads of Japanese people, especially in the post world war one scenario.

Besides the animals lacking a voice, the placement of the enemy is very important to the myth of Momotaro. In the Sazanami version, the ogres live on their own private island. In the Momotaro’s Sea Eagle they live in a very close approximation of Hawaii (complete with a slide guitar intro to complete the allusion). Both of these places bear resemblance to those accused of spreading ideas to Japan, with Ogre island being a loose representative of china, and Pearl harbor being approximated in animation. While Ogre island might not have been intended to be China, the lack of good will to their neighbor is still a commonplace in the text. With war between the two countries dating back as long as travel between them was established, it wouldn’t be a stretch to assert that the xenophobia attributed to the ogres could also be attributed to the Japanese’s feelings towards the Chinese in the mid 18th century.

I also find it interesting that despite the numerous amount of animosity towards other countries, the food that unites the animal creatures is Millet dumplings. Dumplings are kind of a universal food, many other countries eat them (including, Nepal, Indonesia, Korea, and of course China) and they’re not overtly complicated to make. Yet, its dumplings that makes the animals loyal to Momotaro, and its Dumplings that are used as a reminder of home for the soldiers. The fact that dumplings are used as motivation to annihilate the seemingly Chinese allusion soldiers is deeply ironic, and it says something about the use of the myth in terms of war, and animosity towards foreign lands, the fact that Momotaro requires the help of entirely different species of animals to aid him in his quest, yet the film is being used as a vehicle to justify the annihilation of same species lives is satire in a very pure form.

In conclusion, I want to state that the use of Momotaro as a propaganda should be looked down upon. Using childhood characters to inspire feelings of hatred toward those different from yourself is wrong, and using a myth that should stand for the importance of justice in a child’s upbringing as a weapon is especially heinous. By using nameless, voiceless characters as symbols for the millions of Japanese fighting in WW2 Momotaro was used as a reasoning behind the near godlike status the Emperor had achieved, and the peasantry the est of the country was forced to. All in all I find it dismaying that Momotaro was used to build a community of hate, instead of one of learning and respect.

Food, Sex and Fat people Aka the Gourmet Club

The Gourmet Club starts off fairly innocently as a tale of five obese well off Japanese men who just really like food. Their quest to consume the best life has left them bored with the current cuisine offered to them from Tokyo, and eventually the lead member the Count, has reached the point where he dreams of the perfect meal, one he has never tried but can only wish to enjoy. This leads him to journey to a Chinese food hall in a small district in Japan where he witnesses “Food Magic”. In the explanation of what kind of food is made in the food hall, and the description of the secrecy of the food in the hall, is where I believe Tanizaki Junichiro makes the crucial hypothesis that Food is both an allegory for the boom of exoticism In japan, as well as food being near mystical in its conception.

Tanizaki shows this when the Count begins making the food he saw conceived in the food hall. With the strange preparation and presentation of dishes like “Deep Fried woman, Korean Style” and the Ham with cabbage, it seems that the allure to crazy out there food preparation seems to have started with the count’s journey to the Chinese food hall. The fact that the count went to a Chinese food hall to gain the secrets of truly sensual food gives reason that Tanizaki thought that gaining a path to higher food quality was to be gained from worldly experience, not through the same tired and true cuisine.

The idea of Sensuality in food is also exotic, though not in the same sense as gaining cuisine from other cultures. The description of the ham and cabbage dish is very sensual, focusing on the licking of fingers, and the swallowing of fluids to give the same experience as reading nearly pornographic material. Bringing in a different understanding of food through different senses (especially those used in an entirely different act altogether) give the food a different feel, and make it an different experience. Through the use of sensuality to describe food, Tanizaki makes us feel the food differently, and through the sensuality of food only being explained in detail when eating the Chinese food from the count, we acquire a shared understanding that cultures different from your palette gives off a taste so different that you’ll acquire a near sexual climax from food.

Furthering the exoticism in the story is the way the count finds the food. Clouded in a opium den, looking through a secret panel to peak a glimpse at the food being made, whilst gazing upon a crowd filled with beautifully dressed men women, with the leader dressed in an elaborate robe with squirrel lining. Truly its something out of a dream, with the last words of the Chinese attendant “People come in here to look at the scene next door and then slowly float off into dreamland” confirming the dreamlike qualities of the food hall and off the entire endeavor.

the most important introductory scene

tampopo noodles

Watching Tampopo I discovered a lot of things, things like “Wow situational comedy really does transcend language.” or “ Wow ramen is both hard to make and truly delicious”, but one of the most important things I discovered was the master stokes of Juzo Itami. In a movie about such a mundane thing as ramen I was enthralled to watch Tampopo, it really disappointed me that the movie ended before it ended due to its excellence and really hunger enticing version of a “Rockyesqe” tale about ramen. Of the many excellent and enjoyable moments of the movie is the opening scene where the two truckers Goro and Gun read a book about a man learning how to eat ramen.

It’s in this scene about a young man learning how to eat ramen, that we gain the point of the whole movie, just five minutes in from the start! Having the Young man learn the proper way to eat ramen from the old man foreshadows how the rest of the movie will go and how important that student teacher relationship is throughout the movie. Goro and Gun, Goro and Tampopo, Tampopo and her son, The businessmen eating at the fancy restaurant, the charm school, and the old hobo cooking master all showcase the importance of the teacher student relationship, and in the case of the charm school and the businessmen, the trend is subverted, though the relationship still remains.

The point of these relationships, and of the the entire movie, is to show that teaching the ways of old to a newer generation is a needed and useful thing to have for society. As we talked about in class, in the 1980’s there was modern movement based on new, trendy things. Things like ramen and noodle chefs and old fashioned eateries, were probably being forgotten about in the influx of new materials. It seems that Tampopo was created as an example of why modernizing wasn’t the greatest of plans, and how the youth of Tokyo should learn to hold onto the past as an example of the Joys and greatness of culture and tradition and ramen.

This is all foreshadowed in that beginning scene by the way the young man reacts to all of the old man’s strange demands, and how he finds the secret of ramen in his tutelage. This could be a commentary on how the youth of Japan could have so much to gain from the teachings of those before them and how modernity could only harshly affect the world they’ve built. Maybe its a commentary on how things like ramen take a certain approach that would most likely be foreign to the increasingly modern society. Perhaps the scene meant nothing to modern day Japan, and its sole purpose is to illustrate why Goro and Gun were hungry and entered the noodle shop in the first place. Or Itami created a scene that explains the entirety of the movie so that no one missed the point of Tampopo.