Author Archives: aathwal

The Cove and the Revealing of its Secrets

Documentary film making has always been one of the most effective methods for expressing the ideas and opinions of directors. Because of this, the popularity of the genre has grown tremendously over time. There are so many different types of documentary films that a genre can no longer be solely labeled as a documentary. As a result, there are now sub genres for documentaries that range from observational and expository to participatory and reflexive. In the shocking documentary titled The Cove, director Louie Psihoyos uses the participatory and expository methods of documentary filmmaking to show his journey to reveal the truth behind what happens within the confines of a small cove on the coast of Taiji, Japan. 

The Cove is a documentary about the capture and slaughter of tens of thousands of dolphins that occurs annually in Taiji, Japan. The main purpose of the capturing of these highly intelligent mammals is to find dolphins that can be taken and trained to perform at various water theme parks. Not all of the dolphins that are captured are selected for these positions, however. Those who aren’t fortunate enough to be selected by dolphin trainers are viciously killed in the cove by fisherman so their meat can be sold. Acquiring footage of what went on inside the cove was a great challenge for Psihoyos and his his crew because everything was heavily guarded to prevent any of the secrets about what happens inside from ever being exposed. The only way they were able to finally acquire footage of what went on in the cove was with the use of highly sophisticated and disguised camera equipment that was strategically placed in places where it would go unnoticed such as underwater as well as among the rocks that served as the natural barrier that stopped any outside eyes from ever seeing what was going on. 


An aerial long shot of the blood red waters inside the cove, which are safely hidden away from any outside viewers


Louie Psihoyos prepares for an attempt to obtain video footage inside the cove

The participatory style of documentary filmmaking is when the director of a film is shown interacting with others. Psihoyos plays an important role in his documentary because he is  right there as a part of the spy-like team of camera men who take the risk of entering a highly secure, prohibited area to find the truth behind what is happening to the dolphins who are captured in the cove. One reason that Psihoyos chose to put himself in the film is because he was very passionate exposing to the world the horrors that have been committed by these dolphin fishermen and he felt that by putting himself in the documentary, people could see his concern regarding the matter and understand that it what was happening in Taiji was a very serious issue. The second screenshot shows Louie Psihoyos in one of the first scenes of the documentary where he discusses the legal danger in what they are about to do to try to obtain footage of the dolphin killings. The use of night vision as well as thermal cameras as shown in the close-up screenshot add to the mystery of the theme which brings viewers feel as if they are almost coming along for the suspenseful journey right alongside Psihoyos.


A scientist gives statistical information on the amount of mercury contained in dolphin meat

The expository documentary style is an equally effective method that is used for grasping the viewers attention in a film such as The Cove. Expository filmmaking is the dictating or revealing of truth of about an event with facts. This method is almost necessary in this film where facts regarding the health risks of eating dolphin meat are reviewed. The recommended total level of mercury in seafood in Japan is 0.4 parts per million. When compared to the third screenshot, it is obviously a much smaller amount than what is contained in dolphin meat. This  scene leads to a reference to the Minamata disease, that explains how mercury poisoning in humans first became an issue in 1956 when people became poisoned from the consumption of fish in Minamata, Japan because a factory was dumping its waste into the ocean which was affecting the fish in the area. People who were affected by the Minamata disease suffered many serious health issues. Pregnant women were at the highest level of risk because they would often give birth to children with developmental issues who weren’t able to speak or walk. 

Louie Psihoyos was able to make a very powerful and effective documentary about the issue behind the slaughtering and selling of dolphin meat in Taiji, Japan. He did this through the utilization of different documentary techniques including participatory and expository filmmaking. His film was very effective because it gained popularity worldwide and an issue that was once unknown to even the majority of the Japanese population outside of Taiji became a matter that was suddenly known to everyone. 


Tampopo: Every Scene Has a Story

Tampopo, directed by Itami Juzo, is a film about a widowed woman named Tampopo and her pursuit to make a name for herself in the highly competitive Japanese ramen restaurant industry. This journey is sparked by Tampopo’s encounter with a man by the name of Goro, who criticizes the ramen she makes at her restaurant. After pleads from Tampopo, Goro eventually agrees to help train her so she can perfect her ramen cooking skills and gain success. This film incorporates many themes including romance and humor but the agreement between Tampopo and Goro exemplifies what in my opinion is one of the most important ideas of Tampopo: assisting those who need a helping hand.


Goro comes to the rescue of Tabo as he is being beaten up by bullies.

As Goro and his partner Gun first arrive outside of Tampopo’s small ramen shop, Goro rushes to help defend a boy who is getting beaten up by three bullies as shown in the screenshot above. After chasing the bullies away, Goro and the boy come inside the restaurant where Goro learns that the boy he just helped is Tampopo’s son, Tabo. The reason I find great significance in this scene is because it serves as an excellent example of foreshadowing the fact that Goro is going help Tampopo. Goro makes an effort to protect the young boy simply because he realizes that he is in need of help, but is unaware that this small action will lead to him helping Tampopo as well. First, by fighting a very rude customer inside Tampopo’s restaurant to protect Tampopo’s self esteem regarding her cooking skills, and finally, by improving Tampopo’s ramen cooking skills through an array Rocky Balboa-like training scenes as well as the adoption of new cooking techniques. There are many other elements within this screenshot that add to its significance and importance although they may not be immediately evident.  The camera range used in this scene is a medium-long shot which is used because it can show all of the characters involved in the scene while also including some of the scenery in the background. This type of shot is commonly used in fight scenes which relates to this situation because this can be seen as a small skirmish.

An additional noteworthy element of the mise en scene is the use of a train in the background of the shot. An appearance of a train has significance particularly in Japanese films because it is symbolic of a change in characters, either meaning new characters are entering the plot or current characters are leaving. In the case of this scene, it foreshadows that Goro will soon meet Tampopo for the first time. The rain in this shot affects both the sound and lighting of the scene. These elements add to the dark tone of this scene which affects the viewer’s perspective on the ramen shop. Essentially, all of these details of the screenshot come together to show why a scene which may seem rather insignificant at first is actually an important message to what the plot of the film revolves around.