Author Archives: joelnelmida

The Cove and its Implications as a Documentary

           In “Why Are Ethical Issues Central to Documentary Filmmaking,” Bill Nichols writes that every film is a documentary; each film is either a documentary of wish-fulfillment (fiction) or a documentary of social representation (non-fiction) (Nichols).   Louie Psihoyos’ The Cove (2009) embodies the latter category of what can simply be called a documentary film as it follows Ric O’Barry’s struggles to expose the slaughtering of dolphins in the waters of a remote lagoon located in Taiji, Japan.

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            The Cove establishes Ric O’Barry as its main protagonist, and the documentary details not only his role in dolphin activism today but also his history with commercial dolphin captivity (Psihoyos).  The film first depicts Ric O’Barry’s earlier works with dolphins.  He once worked as a dolphin trainer for the 1960s TV series Flipper – a show that propelled dolphins into the mainstream (Psihoyos).  O’Barry’s past as a trainer for the popular Flipper series helped commercialize the capturing of dolphins (Psihoyos).  However, after production of the series ended, O’Barry adopted the life of an activist.  He believes that Kathy, the main dolphin that acted as “Flipper,” committed suicide by suffocating herself when she purposefully did not open her blowhole to take another breath (Psihoyos), and since that incident, he has worked to release captive dolphins back into the wild (Psihoyos).  The film almost appears to document O’Barry’s effort to rectify his past and what happened to Kathy.  By illustrating to the audience O’Barry’s past and current actions, the documentary personalizes Ric O’Barry’s life.   It becomes an appeal to the emotions of the viewer and an attempt to win the audience to O’Barry’s side. 

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The documentary even depicts the commitment of Ric O’Barry.  He says, “I never planned on being an activist. One thing leads to another, and now if there’s a dolphin in trouble anywhere in the world, my phone will ring” (Psihoyos).  The statement by O’Barry demands the viewer to acknowledge the dedication he has to his cause; it is another passionate ploy to gain the viewer to the side of “the speaker” (Nichols).

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            With O’Barry established as Nichols’ “speaker,” the documentary then portrays Taiji and its lagoon as the “them” that is spoken about – or against (Nichols).  Ric O’Barry is the speaker (the activist) who tries to convey to the viewer that Taiji is a “little town with a really big secret” (Psihoyos) – that is, dolphin slaughter by local fisherman and townsfolk occurs in an isolated cove in Taiji.

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From the “helicopters” to the “drones” to the “thermal cameras” (Psihoyos), the documentary takes on a tone of espionage and covert operations under Ric O’Barry and his crew.  In what appears to be an attempt to place the viewer on the actual team, the documentary even displays to the viewer a map that details all the locations where the crew should not trespass.  This aspect in the film essentially translates into another (fun) appeal to the viewer to gain him or her onto the Ric O’Barry effort against dolphin slaughter.

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Ethical issues also remain apparent in The Cove. Food becomes pertinent when the film attempts to document Japan’s “covering up” of the sale of dolphin meat in its markets (Psihoyos).  In the documentary, Scott Baker claims, “Dolphin meat is generally considered to be a less desirable commodity, and it would sell for far, far less, if it was properly labeled.  So the meat is distributed much more widely than…recognized” (Psihoyos).  The film portrays Japan’s government to be in cahoots with the slaughtering of dolphins in order to help the fishing industry, which sees dolphins and other whales as “pests” that hinder the size of the catch (Psihoyos).  But this is also where the film fails to depict to the viewer the other side; actual Japanese activists never make appearances in the film.  The viewer instead is shown obliviousness in the Japanese population when various native citizens display ignorance on the subject in front of the camera.  By dehumanizing the Japanese people into one group that seems to be either for dolphin slaughter or ignorant of it, The Cove makes yet another effort to win the viewer onto the side of the speaker.

            However, with all its endeavors to create a one-sided story of Ric O’Barry against the slaughtering of dolphins aside, the documentary still questions real ethical issues.  The documentary rightfully portrays dolphins as creative creatures with the ability to recognize self and capacity to learn and display intelligence at the level of humans (Psihoyos).  The main issue becomes not that of government corruption but that of the brutal slaughter of intelligent beings.  As humans, the ability to be conscious of being conscious remains remarkable – and this level of consciousness has been documented in dolphins (Psihoyos).  The documentary humanizes the dolphins in an effort to put the main issue at the forefront.  It allows the viewer to place him or herself into the dolphin’s flippers; it becomes an issue of right and wrong, a moral dilemma.  Separate species and mercury health side effects aside, humans and dolphins belong in the same category with regards to the ability to recognize oneself in the world.

Works Cited

Nichols, Bill. “Why Are Ethical Issues Central to Documentary Filmmaking,” from Introduction to Documentary(Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2010), 42-66.

Psihoyos, Louie. The Cove. Lionsgate, 2009. Film.

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Multiforms and Momotarō

Mythological tales and stories remain deeply embedded in oral tradition and written literature because they are pervasive and persistent.  From Japanese folklore originates the story of Momotarō, whose heroic travails against the world’s demons have been detailed since the Edo period of Japan (as early as 1723).  Furthermore, numerous multiforms, or variations, of the original folktale have materialized since its conception including Iwaya Sazanami’s Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy and the film Momotarō no Umiwashi (1943) directed by Seo Mitsuyo.  By comparing and contrasting these two multiforms, one can not only determine the impact of the similarities and differences have on the fundamental story pattern but also better understand the historical context of each variation.

The historical context of each multiform under consideration must be established. The first multiform to consider is Iwaya’s Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy, and it was published in 1894 during the Meiji era, a period in which Japan began to emerge as a modernized nation.  This particular multiform essentially follows the fundamental story pattern of the original but deviates in its loss of erotic elements; it becomes a story much more suited for adolescents.  The second multiform under consideration is Seo Mitsuyo’s Momotarō no Umiwashi.  Produced in 1942, the animated film was released in 1943 as propaganda.  The animation strays from both the original and the first multiform under consideration mainly with its modern setting, ship vessels, and aircrafts.  However, it does not stray far from the basic plot of the original folk tale; the protagonist Momotarō still defeats his enemies at Onigashima (Demon Island or Ogre Island) with the assistance of his animal companions.  One must recognize that the two multiforms under consideration originate from distinguishable periods in Japanese history; Iwaya’s Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy came during the rise of modern Japan in the Meiji era, while Momotarō no Umiwashi was conceived in the wake of Japan’s military strikes on Pearl Harbor.

In order to better highlight the impact of the differences found within the two multiforms, the principle similarities must be established; specifically, they follow the fundamental story pattern of the folktale of Momotarō.  First, the two multiforms both have a youthful boy named Momotarō as the main protagonist.  In Iwaya’s Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy, the “name of ‘Peach-Boy’” (Iwaya 16) is explicitly given to the protagonist, and he is aged at “fifteen years old” (Iwaya 16) at the commencement of his journey.  Peach-Boy derives from the English translation of Momotarō.  Seo’s film never explicitly labels the boy as Momotarō, but the viewer implicitly identifies the name in the title of the animation, Momotarō no Umiwashi.  In addition, Momotarō carries the appearance of that of a young boy and speaks with the voice of an adolescent.  Both multiforms share similar protagonists.  Momotarō’s animal companions (or subordinates) compose the next feature from the fundamental story pattern that the two multiforms share.  Momotarō holds three types of animals under his command in Iwaya’s Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy; these “The Spotted Dog” (Iwaya 26), “The Monkey” (Iwaya 27), and “The Pheasant” (Iwaya 30).  Seo’s version of the multiform includes a multitude of creatures in the service of “Captain” Momotarō (Seo).  Including dogs, monkeys, pheasants, and rabbits, the animals serve in Momotarō no Umiwashi to place the animation in accordance with the second principle feature.  The final shared feature between both multiforms is that the protagonists of each have common enemies.  In Iwaya’s Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy, Peach-Boy intends to “wage war against” (Iwaya 19) those at “Ogre’s Island” (Iwaya 19), while in Seo’s Momotarō no Umiwashi, Captain Momotarō leads his forces to “attack Demon Island” (Seo).  Although the translations differ amongst the two multiforms, the target is the same – enemies at Onigashima (Demon or Ogre’s Island).  Both multiforms of the folktale follow the fundamental story pattern.

The first multiform under consideration must be placed into its historical context.  Iwaya’s Peach-Boy has humble beginnings.  He is “sent down…by the command of the god of Heaven” (Iwaya 16) to “an Old Man and an Old Woman” (Iwaya 9) and born from a “peach split suddenly in half” (Iwaya 15).  However as earlier stated, Iwaya’s multiform removes the erotic elements of the original in which Momotarō comes from aftermath of intercourse between the elderly couple and the Old Woman’s return to youth after eating a peach.  The changes in Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy transforms the original folktale into a story more susceptible to children; in turn, this transformation into a children’s story allows Iwaya’s multiform to become a learning source for building a strong national character – in line with the Meiji era and Japan’s rise as a modern nation.  In addition, Peach-Boy’s manners with his parents become an example for the adolescents who read the first multiform under consideration.  Before departing on his journey, Peach-Boy respectfully thanks his adopted parents.  He remarks that their kindness “has been higher than the mountain from which you cut grass and deeper than the river in which the washing is done” (Iwaya 17), and he begs his Old Man to “bid farewell” (Iwaya 18).  This scene demonstrates good behavior perhaps for those who have come of age.  In Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy, the reader must also recognize the method by which Peach-Boy acquires his animal companions.  He recruits them one after another as he travels the different terrains of Japan.  After meeting Peach-Boy with agression, the spotted “dog of the woods” (Iwaya 23) joins him after hearing his name.  Later, the “Monkey of [the] Mountain” wishes to accompany Peach-Boy (Iwaya 27), and “as they were crossing a moor” (Iwaya 28), the pheasant is made into a subordinate.  Peach-Boy travels actual terrain, and as he travels through Japan, he is either met with aggression or respect; this is akin to the folktales’ origins in the Edo period because it is almost as if he is uniting daimyos of different regions.  With every new ally, he also gives each half of one of “the best millet dumplings in Japan” (Iwaya 25).  The millet dumplings play a nationalistic role in this multiform – food to reaffirm that camaraderie is earned, cultivated, and homegrown.  In its historical context, Iwaya’s Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy is a children’s story from the Meiji era for building and teaching a strong national character with roots in the feudal Edo era.

The second multiform under consideration must now be placed into its historical context.  Seo’s Momotarō no Umiwashi abandons the backstory behind Momotarō, and instead commences with his armed animal army already in his command.  This resonates with the fact that at the time of the film’s production, Japan was already a unified nation at war.  The story did not exactly need Momotarō’s humble beginnings to create a unifying theme as Japan as a country was already a power.  It must also be stated that the cartoon is clearly propaganda for children.  The animals are cute and even includes an additional species amongst them compared to the original and first multiform – bunnies with long ears.  Cartoony music accompanies these characters in the background. The animation and non-diegetic sound in the film are both playful, but the film still maintains a tone of nationalism by incorporating Japanese elements.  Many of the animals sport hachimaki head scarves with the red sun, and the koinobori (carp streamers of Japan’s Children’s Day) seen throughout the film attach feelings of connection for Japanese children.   In addition, Momotarō no Umiwashi also loses the millet dumplings that once cultivated the relationships between Peach-Boy and each of his additional companions, but the characters are already homegrown.  The audience must also acknowledge Seo’s choice of antagonist in the film.  At Onigashima, the “demons” appear as Western men dressed in sailors uniforms.  In its historical context, Momotarō no Umiwashi is absolutely film propaganda for children to justify what happened at Pearl Harbor and, like the first multiform, to build a strong sense of nationalism.

In conclusion, the story of Momotarō remains as one of Japan’s most pervasive and persistent folktales, and as the multitude of multiforms have manifested over time, it has become a lesson-teaching and national pride-building story for children.  Iwaya’s Momotaro = the Story of Peach-Boy (1894) employs the folktale as an example for children to build a strong national character, coinciding with the emergence of Japan as a modern nation.  The animated film Momotarō no Umiwashi (1943) directed by Seo Mitsuyo also uses the folktale to build national pride, but it also depicts World War II themes in order to justify Japan’s actions at Pearl Harbor.

 

 

National Identity in The Gourmet Club

Junichiro Tanizaki’s The Gourmet Club depicts Count G’s quest for finer cuisine as Tokyo’s eats become increasingly mundane for him and his club of Japanese gormandizers.  Through his choice of diction, Tanizaki fills Count G’s world of cuisine with sexual flavors.  Additionally, he employs exoticism to create nationalistic overtones and critique upon how the Japanese should identify with another culture.

It becomes important to establish the erotic nature of the food in The Gourmet Club because it helps the reader understand just how far Count G and his underlings will go for gourmet cuisine.  Tanizaki explicitly makes it clear from the beginning that the members of the club truly respect and admire cooking.  For the Gourmet Club, “cooking was an art” (99) and “they took as much pride and pleasure in [discovering some novel flavor] as if they’d found a beautiful woman” (99).   The narrator’s opening commentary states that the members’ hunger for fine food matches their lust for the pleasures in the bed sheets.  Tanizaki’s selection of vocabulary also aids in making the sexual characteristics of food quite prevalent.  The narrator comments that the members seek a “blissful new experience” (104) for the taste buds on their tongues which had to “lick and slurp” (102) for any new flavor.  Later, the scene with the Chinese cabbage pushes even further the sexual tone food carries in the narrative.  The supposed woman who comes out into the darkness to play with A’s “lips, stretching and releasing them” (133) is rather erotic with her actions; her hands later become covered with A’s saliva and create a “sweetish flavor, with an aromatic, salty undertaste” (135) after the fingering of his mouth. The opening commentary and this scene under consideration allow the reader to note not only the sexual overtones but also the greater impact of the sensual experience that food elicits in the members of the Gourmet Club. 

The reader must also understand how exoticism is created in the narrative.  Tanizaki creates a sense of exoticism for China by placing discontent of Tokyo eats amongst those in the Gourmet Club. By having them be “sick to death of Japanese food” (102), he separates cuisine into Japanese self and other foreign cuisine like “Chinese food—that rich cuisine said to be the most developed and varied in the world” (102).   The commentary makes the exotic food of China seem different and more appealing.

Finally, Tanizaki establishes nationalistic overtones to the narrative with his final commentary.  Not until the end, after working up the uniqueness of Chinese cuisine, does the narrator state that the gormandizers of the Gourmet club are “consumed” (139) by the fine cuisine Count G can now make after a night of peeking upon the banquet at Chechiang hall.  Throughout the whole narrative, Chinese cuisine is seen as something lucrative and exotic.  At the banquet, “not one of them looked ill, or seedy, or shabby…” (117) and most “…were fine-looking men, well built, with healthy faces” (117) in “Western dress” (118).  These people are clearly not Japanese.  Tanizaki utilizes exoticism to critique the national identity of the Japanese by endowing the foreigners in his narrative with negative attributes.  The narrator describes those at the banquet as being “abstracted, as if some inner focus had been lost” (117), and later, he peeks in a room with a “strange odor” (127), an opium den.  Tanizaki acknowledges an alignment with the Chinese perhaps as both being oriental, but it is almost as if this alignment causes a loss of national identity amongst the Japanese.  This is a critique on Japanese national identity because the narrative targets a mainly Japanese audience.  The narrator acknowledges that he must be “strict in my choice of reader” although “it is impossible to do so” (128).  By acknowledging the reader, Tanizaki suggests to the reader (likely Japanese) to reflect upon him or herself.

The In-Between and the Indirect

As a necessity for growth of the body and therefore life, food integrates itself into the daily lives of most people.  This fundamental need, in turn, places food not only in the bowels of its consumers but also somewhere between those sharing the experience. The merit of food does not solely attribute itself to nourishing the body but also to giving sustenance to the soul – in its ability to form and build upon relationships.  Juzo Itami’s Tampopo (1985) showcases this binary nature of food as it follows the travails of Tampopo, a Japanese widow struggling to perfect her ramen with the aid of a truck driver named Goro.  Several subplots highlight that special somewhere food finds itself amongst relationships and weave their way into the film; these subplots are not limited to a couple with a food fetish nor to a woman’s attempt to teach spaghetti etiquette to her ramen-slurping accustomed peers.

 

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Goro and Gun escort Tabo into his mother’s ramen shop after rescuing him. (00:07:48)

 

The first sequence in Tampopo’s ramen shop, in particular, demonstrates food’s ability to bring people together.  After listening to Gun’s story regarding how to properly and proficiently eat noodles, Goro, ravenous for ramen, decides to stop by what appears to be a hole-in-the-wall ramen shop.  There, they rescue Tampopo’s son Tabo from three of his schoolmates’ stomping, and escort him from the rain into the shop.  It must be noted that Goro and Gun form a new relationship with Tabo indirectly because of their hunger.  Inside the shop, Tampopo serves the two their long-awaited noodles (though they are disappointed).  A quarrel then arises between the two and a customer, Pisken, who continuously attempts to make Tampopo swoon with suggestions of taking her to Paris.  They exchange words, naruto is flicked, and they take it outside (Pisken has a posse). This part of the sequence showcases the making of enemies (again, indirectly) because of Goro and Gun’s hunger.  The aftermath of the sequence forms a lasting relationship between Goro, Gun, and Tampopo.  After taking a beating, the two truck drivers are nursed by Tampopo, who asks them what they thought of her ramen and ultimately asks Goro to teach her the art of ramen.  Finally, this sequence under consideration showcases hunger and a ramen shop creating new relationships (good or bad) between strangers.

Although this sequence occurs in the beginning, its importance can be found in the manner it establishes the theme of the movie.  It is dark out, and the rain is pouring; nobody is thinking about the gold and the green.  However, in this dreary setting, the hunger of two truck drivers forms these new relationships between strangers.  The sequence serves to establish that food can bring anybody together, coincidence or not, and it leaves the viewer not shocked by the rest of the content of the film, but enthused and in anticipation.  Later, the viewer observes as a couple erotically use food to build upon their relationship, with them exchanging an egg yolk back and forth between their mouths.  Student-teacher relationships are noted between the woman and her peers as she futilely tries to teach them not to slurp when eating spaghetti and in the beginning story Gun reads to Goro. 

Tampopo (1985) demonstrates that food is not only a vital part of life but unavoidable because of its necessity.  It constantly plays a role in the daily life of a person, whether through sharing a meal with another or annoying a store clerk because all one wants to do is squeeze some peaches.