Author Archives: gonzalo8212013

Dolphins – Food or Compassionate Beings?

Swimming with dolphins

Swimming with dolphins

Louie, Psihoyos’ 2009 The Cove is a struggle between tradition and combating emotions. Dolphin hunting and other mammalian sea creatures have been a tradition in Japan for decades; however, due to the opposing viewpoints of other nations to prohibit such actions, such practices are forcibly attempted to a halt. For their reasons being, the Japanese adopted the practice and acknowledge their pros and cons to it. Still, the Americans view it as something to fight against, not only for the sake of food, but for the sake of ecological and animal embrace. Essentially, the film attacks dolphin hunting and capture as abusive, cruel, and demeaning. In addition to the depletion of the dolphin population, the film aims to heighten the moralistic and spiritual essence of dolphins as sentient and intelligent animals as opposed to a food or other type of cuisine. Nevertheless, the Japanese dolphin industry and local Japanese government attempt to strictly hide the dolphin capturing sites in Taiji in order to prevent the people from knowing the cruelty of the business. Despite such efforts, Ric O’ Barry and the film crew attempt anything legally possible to expose the terrors that occur at the Taiji sites. As two conflicting viewpoints unravel, the importance of what is known to be food in one country can be a heinous and unjust crime in another. Hence, cultural and international differences conflict the efforts of one country’s interests to another country’s interests in the sake of food and tradition.

The film adapts a manifesto-oriented position as it calls for action and urgency for the sake eradicating the lies and abuse to both dolphins and the unaware Japanese people alike. The personalization and collective group consciousness the film adopts is similar to Battleship Potemkin and Minamata in the sense that they are the “we,” facing a higher power that dehumanizes them. What ties them together is the fact that these groups in common interest embody a personal connection to their food. To The Cove crew and the films previously mentioned, food is something of the upmost importance in which it is something they intake to their bodies and metaphorically become one. However, it is dubious as to what they consider food and what is just for them to eat. Although the dolphin meat is poisonous, it is clear there is a demand for it despite the fact unawareness of its contents is ever-present among the Japanese population. In fact, that is the reason it is still in the market. Perhaps uprising in the name of food all come with the lies and unknown truths they entail in order to hurt them by a higher authority. Eating marine mammals in Japan has been tradition for years thus causing a difficulty for the Americans in the crew to move such solidified tendencies those years of tradition have cemented. The film crew believes such actions and traditions to be eradicated with the help of a moral compass and compassion to the animals, the earth, and their people.

There is a distinct separation between Americans and other allied nations in their effort to halt dolphin slaughter and the Japanese that are doing the slaughtering. The Americans are portrayed as heroic, friendly, just, and humane whereas the Japanese are perceived to be rude, cruel, inhumane, and greedy. The documentary narrative purports these American heroisms with a dramatic intro and personal anecdotes. However, the interests of both sides have to be taken into account with little to no bias in order to get the full picture of the film. On the American side, dolphins are considered emotionally intelligent and almost humanly to the point where they should be friends. Deemed acceptable and encouraging befriending these animals, Americans such as Ric O’ Barry see it as absolutely unacceptable to hurt or maim them in any way. In fact, even the capture of these animals is deemed appalling. In comparison, the Japanese reserve their right to kill these animals as pests for population reduction and for lucrative businesses such as aquariums, circus shows, meat, and other commodities.  Nevertheless, for the reasons being, the Japanese government hides such matters knowing exposure would lead to opposition. On such matters, the government seems to support the sale of mercury-poisoned dolphin meat to continue flowing in the market which leads to cases of mercury food poisoning in the Japanese population. Regarding such actions, the Americans do have right to petition such actions against the government for the people. However, this seems to be a byproduct of their goal in the film with their primary aim being to protect dolphins, prevent their slaughter, and expose the world about it. Their moral-oriented behavior is seen biased in favor of animal rights as opposed to human rights violations in the threat of mercury poisoning. For the Japanese, it seems as if the dolphins serve as a secondary commodity for food with entertainment business being the first. It is possible both the Americans and Japanese are on a stalemate with secondary byproducts in their goals with dolphins. In any case, exposure of the dolphin industry is shocking to most Japanese people, suggesting that the people are just as moral as the Americans in the film and that the source of accountability are in fact the corporations and governments in charge of the operations.

dolphin slaughter

dolphin slaughter

Symbolism and imagery are used in the film to evoke images and emotions of dolphins and their moral character. For instance, the scene where the deep sea divers are majestically interacting and swimming in perfect harmony with the dolphin illustrate the compassion, humanity, grace, intelligence, and love these creatures have for us humans and the deep blue sea. Such imagery is aimed to evolve the heartless perpetrators of dolphins and heighten the emotion of the audiences. Additionally, the slaughter scene with the blood-drenched ocean signal the meaning of anger, loss, evil, and sadness altogether against the Japanese fishermen.  Lastly, the exposure to mercury poisoning and the cases that occurred in the past to the Japanese people illustrate a reminder to the past in Minamata and the horrors that come with eating such contaminated foods. These scenes scream out to the Japanese consumers to stop buying and eating dolphin and to stop supporting the industry.

Ric O' Barry caressing a dolphin

Ric O’ Barry caressing a dolphin

Psihoyos’ aim for The Cove was to expose the world that dolphin meat is not a food and that its production is something to be truly afraid of. The messages in the film indicate that you cannot know what you are truly eating. In this case, the Japanese have kept it tradition to eat sea mammals and that is was okay doing so without knowing the true picture. Hence, the governments and authorities hid all the dangers of dolphin meat and its terrifying slaughter in order to keep the market for it intact and the money flowing. But in fact, breaking a dangerous tradition for the safety of the animal and the people is truly possible with such exposure. In effect, movements for such a cause have gained great momentum and continue to rise. The efforts to stop the injustices are reminiscent of the proletariat past so many groups have done in the name of food.


Momotaro’s Army: Food

In both Iwaya Sazanami’s retelling of the story and Mitsuyo Seo’s anime version Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, food plays essentially roles in the heroic story. Although it is not explicit, the precedence of food presented in the film is primarily used for symbolism. The symbolism describes the ways food functions as an idea of unity on its own and the effects it can have on people, animals, and nations entirely. For one, the tale of Momotaro implicitly proposes that food unifies not only people but all species that rely on it for the sake of survival and common interest. In other words, food can be molded away from or portrayed as a Darwinian principle throughout the tale. Among other things, the idea of food is also portrayed as communication and language; it can motivate behaviors and establish loyalty.  The tale additionally symbolizes the power of food as a currency to pave the way for victory in a war. Nationalism, pride, solidarity, unity, and cause are all weaved together under the influence of food throughout the story and film as the animals are driven as soldiers to win. Under this approach of food, a corollary exists in which food deviates from being a physical and capitalistic commodity to being a spiritual, emotional, and affectionate medium as well. Finally, the connection of food and Momotaro are strong enough to set an example that practices the morals of Momotaro as a means to unity via food during the Minamata disease events portrayed in Noriaki Tsuchimoto’s film Minamata: The Victims and Their World.

Poster advertising the Japanese victory at Pearl Harbor with Momotaro's army

Poster advertising the Japanese victory at Pearl Harbor with Momotaro’s army

The folktale of Momotaro has solidified a nationalistic symbol for Japan as it was orally passed down, changed, and embraced throughout the years and conditions Japan faced. Nevertheless, food is evidently vital to the overall message the folktale is attempting to get across; unity, solidarity, and strength. Firstly, this idea is illustrated both physically and metaphorically in the beginning of the tale when Momotaro is introduced and found by the old woman.  As the woman says: “The distant waters are bitter! The near waters are sweet! Shun the bitter! Come to the sweet!”  (pg 13) indicates themes of hope, fulfillment, charity, divine intervention, and fruitfulness that are represented by the peach Momotaro is sent in by God. In other words, the peach and Momotaro himself are a poetic symbol that can be interpreted as Japan chosen by divine right to purvey its delicious and superior food charitably; to use that food as a means to fuel the efforts and use it to symbolize national strength and common goals.

The laws of natural selection are evident in their manifestation that animals behave selfishly and serve no one of other species’ competitors in an effort to survive solely for food and its power to survive. However, Momotaro’s food symbolizes more than just food, but a token of power, servitude, and recruitment. Initially, the role food plays in Momotaro is pretty clear-cut: to persuade the animals to join Momotaro. However, the point can be interpreted that food additionally serves to orient the loyalty and establishment of servitude to the animals. Hence, this instilment of common interest in the millet dumplings amongst the animals counteracts the natural orientation of all animals alike in regards to Darwinian natural selection.  In other words, food is greatly emphasized as such a potent motivator of drive to the animals that they are willing to sacrifice their natural and selfish ways of competition evolution programmed them to  and instead serve Momotaro in a fight for a unified common interest of camaraderie and unitary strength. Of course they are still acting in self-interest to feed, but not to the extent animals are supposed to in the natural kingdom practice of “every man for himself.” Hence, food is acting as an impetus of motivation, unity, loyalty, and power beyond levels of natural occurrences.

Militancy and its structural order require a currency of value for the soldiers to obey and function as a group efficiently: that is food. It is commonly said that food wins wars, and in this case, the same can be said about the Momotaro folktale. During the Seyo’s film, the dumplings are portrayed as delicious and crucial for the soldiers to maintain happiness. Along with their pleasure in eating the superior Japanese food, it perfects its role by being nutritionally dense and valuable in energy.  The scene in Seyo’s Sea Eagle in which the monkey bomber eats the dumplings and flexes his instantly grown muscles illustrates such superiority whereas the Americans are portrayed as weak, unfit, disproportional, and dysfunctional. In fact, the dumplings act as a symbol in the same vein as Japan itself does as purveyors of courage and great strength. Food is the ammunition for victory. If not for the finest Japanese dumplings, Momotaro would have never received the aid he was given. In Sazanami’s version, Momotaro’s militancy is recognized by his ability to recruit with food and lead with it as he “[placed] himself between them and carrying his hand an iron fan, according to the custom of all high military officials in those days.” (pg 29).His resourcefulness to attain an army and command it is illustrated in this passage. Nutritionally however, the food was the source of felicity, joy, drive, and ability to fight for a cause with unity.

The monkey indulges in pleasure by eating delicious food as a means to celebrate

The monkey indulges in pleasure by eating delicious food as a means to celebrate

As time passed and struggles piled up in Japan during turbulent times of the 20th century, the influence of Momotaro and his messages and ideals were evident and crucial for real life callings. In Tsuchimoto’s film, Minamata disease and its struggle during the 50s called for a union and fight for rights, food, and unity. The same ideals and principles in both iterations of Momotaro were presented; fight for and by food and ultimately triumph over the common enemy together. In the Momotaro stories, the enemies were presented but quite frequently shifted and changed. From ogre to Mickey Mouse, to cartoon depictions of Americans, the enemy has always been in opposition for its malicious ways to harm and disturb the land, environment, and people. Commonly, however, they are all seen as a threat to Momotaro and his justice call. In the case of Minamata disease, the government and establishment of Chisso are perceived oppressive, malicious, and threatening to the community of fisherman and their families for neglecting the cause and being held responsible for it altogether. In a sense, a call for Momotaro and his crew of righteousness seemed urgent; only in this case, it was a real life parallel. Similarly as the tale of Momotaro was used to promote nationalism in its Seyo’s anime version, the idea was considered the same but a different direction was coursed with the Minamata disease. Sazanami’s version of the tale in which ogres are the common enemy is adopted by the Minimata protestors for the same reasons. Aside from the similarity of the Momotaro story, the influence of Momotaro is hinted in the film when the protesters wear the Momotaro headband to symbolize such influence. What was once used as an effort to support the Japanese aggression of the war during WWII, was now being inversely similarly employed for correct and moral causes by the Minimata protestors under Sazanami’s influence to combat demons in Momotaro’s tale. The malleability of Momotaro’s tale illustrates the powerful implications that can be taken in both directions to orient a cause. On one hand, Seyo’s propaganda film presents Momotaro’s common righteous and valiant efforts to justify his malicious acts of violence and resistance during the war in order to promote nationalism. Nevertheless, the Minimata protests are in the same vein for the same cause of unity, struggle, and solidarity in order to receive fair treatment and just causes.

Momotaro and his crew on their way to Ogre Island

Momotaro and his crew on their way to Ogre Island

Lastly food is symbolized as a token of appreciation, affection, consideration, uniform comfort, and ultimately a journey for all to share in the iterations of the Momotaro tale. Apart from all of the capitalistic values of food in Momotaro’s tales, food ultimately acts as a spiritual entity that embodies a group of people into one concoction of care and appreciation. Emotionally, for Momotaro’ parents in Sazanami’s version, it meant their care and regard for Momotaro as the Old Man battled to prepare it when he “brought out millet which had been stored away some time before, and placed a big stone mortar on the earthen floor of the kitchen, and with the Old Woman’s help, the sound of ‘pet-ta-ra-ko!’ ‘pet-ta-ra-ko!” (pg 21).  Clearly Momotaro saw this and demonstrated his appreciation by only giving half of the dumpling to each animal for they were “the best millet dumplings in Japan.” (pg 25) As a means of health, the body physically responds to food from its nutritional intake. The saying “you are what you eat,” is evident and substantiated by the affected farmers of Minimata and their families. Concern for survival and vocational passion drove the fisherman to do Momotaro’s job. Just as Momotaro commenced his journey and shared his compassion and common goal, the people of Minimata traveled to Osaka to take action and outcry. The comfort to have the situation restored motivated both the people of Minimata and Momotaro to uniform conformity and consideration in the name of food. Additionally, the animals in Sea Eagle film celebrated their victory with affection to food as they not only ate away their pleasures but embraced their uniform body of affection towards one another in the group. Consolidated by unity and solidarity, food then became acceptance and acknowledgment of a struggle to find a common goal.

The importance of food is clear in all aspects of life ranging from natural selection to human emotion and to governmental and nationalistic bodies. Momotaro’s immortal message of food has the same aim: to act as a means to come together and fight for something in the name of solidarity and unity. Real life events such as Minimata are examples of such an important idea in food. In a sense, food can act as a separator in which differences can result in conflict and victory as seen the Seo’s portrayal of Americans in his film along with demonization of the oppressors as seen in Minimata during the 50s. Ultimately, food can be both a commodity to survive and fuel any effort possible, but it can also be an emotional entity that unites species and people alike to happiness, affection, and comfort. This the role food has and the power it plays in various aspects of life. Momotaro implicitly illustrates such roles in the story told different versions through time.

Tampopo – Every Last Drop

1) As her friends in this scene said, Tampopo "has won." Every last drop acts as a sign that the ramen is perfect and deeply appreciated as food and an art form. Thus, in this picture, her friends say Tampopo “has won.”

1) As her friends in this scene said, Tampopo “has won.”
Every last drop acts as a sign that the ramen is perfect and deeply
appreciated as food and an art form. Thus, in this picture, her friends say Tampopo
“has won.”

Gonzalo Gutierrez

Section 1C, TA: Sun

In Juzo Itami’s 1985 “noodle western” Tampopo, many scenes conjure up images and symbols of the importance and intricacies of the traditional ramen dish. However, the scene that I personally believe is the most important is the scene that spans from the ritualistic test of Tampopo’s ramen being tasted and eaten by her friends to the death of the white-dressed fancy gangster. The interesting and fascinating message behind this scene signifies the triumph of traditional ramen over the dying of exclusive western food that the gangster symbolized.

The scenes themselves are presented and orchestrated in a deliberate manner to symbolize this victory the scene is trying to convey. Firstly, the scene begins with Tampopo’s struggle to satisfy the delicate, precise, and artistic ways of perfecting what seems to be the every-day man’s ramen.  The entire film’s premise seems to counteract the misconception or otherwise unknown knowledge of what it takes to make “the common people’s” traditional ramen. Popularly known as being a populist and comforting food, ramen is widely believed to be a mundane dish that is not of the caliber of western delicacies or highly exclusive Japanese cuisine. However, this is hardly the case as the film sets out to prove that traditional ramen can be just as, if not more of an art form in its preparation, appreciation, and cultural value and significance to the Japanese population than the highly exclusive Western food that appears in the film represented as  the white-dressed gangster and the French restaurant.  From the scene onwards, one can see the manner in which all of the methods Tampopo employs to serve and prepare the ramen to the way it is eaten and appreciated by her friends (customers) that ramen is considered a customary practice in Japan that takes years of dedication and effort to perfect. Therefore, traditional food cannot be dismissed from any culture meaning that it is equal in value to any other form of exclusive and expensive cuisine the world has to offer. In other words, it can symbolize Japan’s contribution as an equal competitor to global cuisine as an art form that stems from its traditional background to represent their country’s appreciation and pride for what they have done to retain customary and mundane food. Additionally, the scene progresses to the destruction of Tampopo’s old ramen stand to a newly renovated and decorated restaurant she and her friends manage to make, shedding light to support the claim that Japanese ramen is meant to be a delicacy equal to French cuisine by being similarly prepared by a properly uniformed chef and a well- prepared kitchen, atmosphere, and environment.

Finally, the white-dressed gangster’s death in some sense represents the triumph of ramen over western delicacies as the food of choice and symbol of Japanese culture and people as well as the acceptance and embrace of ramen as true Japanese comfort/populist food over pretentious Western food. It can possibly be interpreted that ramen could have shot the gangster, otherwise represented as Western food, to symbolize this victory. Hence, to me this scene specifically and intricately pinpoints the film’s message in one conclusive timeframe that traditional food can have the pliability to be served as a delicacy and be appreciated just as much.