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Manipulating Food

Louis Psihoyos’ film The Cove uncovers the hidden act of slaughtering of dolphins in the town of Taiji,Japan which has been kept hidden from both the inhabitants of the town and the entire country of Japan. Ric O’Barry, renowned dolphin trainer and former trainer of one of America’s beloved dolphin’s Flipper, travels with Louis Psihoyos and a group of activists to Taiji to find evidence that exposes the severity and the atrocity of the dolphin hunt which the Japanese government tries desperately to conceal. Fisherman and police constantly keep them under surveillance because they do not want them to capture images of this horrific act making it more difficult for the crew to expose them. When O’Barry questions the local councilman of Taiji, Hisato Ryono, about what goes on in the cove, he responds by saying that it is a means of supplying food and the whole town knows about this. He refers to the killing as an act similar to killing cows in that it an unpleasant sight hinting at the idea of dolphins simply being common food products. It is claimed to be a Japanese tradition that does nothing except supply the population with more food to be consumed. The fisherman of Taiji and the Japanese government use the concept of food to maintain the business alive at all cost because although they make some profit from selling their meat, the real profit stems from selling these dolphins to aquariums around the world.

The chosen performance dolphins are sent to aquariums across the globe while the other dolphins are killed for meat at the cove in Taiji.

Ric O’Barry reaches out to Louis Psihoyos and the group to conduct a secret undercover mission to get footage of the killing because he wants people to understand the severity of this problem. He was the witness of seeing a dolphin commit suicide while working as the trainer for the Flipper show and feels it is his duty to help expose Taiji in order to help save the dophins. As he continued to train dolphins he established a connection with these creatures which allowed him to understand that dolphins are highly intelligent species that are meant to live in the wild and not in captivity since they exhibit human-like qualities. He not only wants to stop the hunt along with his team but desires to have people understand that these creatures who are not meant to entertain and be harassed by humans. Throughout the film, the fisherman and those opposed to stopping the hunts often dismiss these ideas of dolphins being conscious animals who have emotions like humans rather than decide to consider these views because the money made from this business is what is most important to them. This dismissal is portrayed through the various shots of the fisherman yelling at the camera crew to back away, interfering with filming by filming back at them with their own cameras, and constantly spying on the crew to ensure there is no filming. Nevertheless not all are ignorant to this problem because it is revealed that many commoners are forced to remain silent about the subject and accept this idea hence creating the “dolphin hunting tradition”.

The camera crew is harassed by a local resident (“Private Space”) attempting to prevent the crew from filming at the cove in Taiji.

The concept of food in Taiji fuels this industry because it is a justification that is difficult to argue against. According to the IWC Japanese delegate, Joji Morishita, the reason to allow this continuation of slaughtering is to reduce the number of dolphins which he believes to be the cause of the decline of consumable fish in the oceans. He creates various data charts to attempt to convince the other IWC delegates to support Japan but the data proves to be incorrect because the actual cause for this decline in fish is the increase in population size rather than dolphins. The dolphin population is being decreased because of these hunts therefore it is illogical for these creatures to consume more fish. The method that was intended for this argument is to make others believe that a shortage of fresh fish may be imminent calling for a possible increase in deaths due to starvation.  The notion of death  by hunger is something that all countries work hard to avoid therefore the Japanese delegate decided to attempt to gain sympathy from other delegates whom he knows will not allow the possibility of food shortages to exists. Food is vital to human life hence it is physiologically impossible for others to view a country suffer from starvation when there is a solution to the problem available. For this scenario, killing dolphins is the proposed solution but in reality the dolphins are not the cause for the fish shortages.

Only a small percentage of the dolphins caught are sold to aquariums and the ones deemed unfit for aquariums are killed and processed to be sold at markets. The film features the team as a group of spies and much like the classic spies in films such as 007, spies often tend to question all the evidence they collect thus far. In this case, after discovering that only certain dolphins are chosen for entertainment hence creating an increase in deceased dolphins, the question that was asked is where the meat goes when dolphin meat is not in high demand. At this stage, the typical spy would analyze data samples or any physical evidence therefore leading O’Barry and the team to analyze other meat samples. With the aid of a DNA tester, they discovered that Taiji has been secretly selling mercury poisoned dolphin meat in meat claimed to be healthy high quality whale meat. Nevertheless, these people are unaware of this fact and continue to be unaware up to this point. The Japanese are using the notion of food against its citizens both young and elderly and are harming their health in order to keep the dolphin business alive. Dolphin meat contains 2000 ppm of mercury which is highly toxic and is being fed to the people of Taiji with the consent of the government. Food is a basic necessity which allows the Japanese government to continue this operation because it is logical that people will trust the labels on the meat they purchase and as long as it is edible the people will eat it without having any doubt that what they eat might be in fact dolphin meat. Rather than creating more food for the people of Japan, a shortage of healthy food is secretly created and mercury poisoning continues to rise.

O’Barry and the crew take DNA samples to prove dolphin meat in mixed in with other meats.

In The Cove, food is used as a justification for the measures taken by the Japanese government in favor of the dolphin hunting in Taiji. As shown by the footage captured by O’Barry, Psihoyos and the team, killing dolphins is an inhumane act because are intellectual creatures who are meant to be free. Nevertheless, the profit that is being made by this business of selling and consuming dolphin drives the Japanese to protect it at all cost in order to further strengthen its economy because much money is made in selling one dolphin to an aquarium  with extra being made by selling the other dolphins for meat. It has reached a point where Japan has actually paid lower level countries to support their ideas because this has become a very profitable business. But, in order to conceal the horrors that take place at the cove, it is often argued that without the dolphins food will become scarce. Although this fact is not true, it enough to convince some people that they are just in their actions taken  and make it difficult for others to argue against Japan. Unfortunately, this concept is used against Japan’s own people and goes against the principle of killing dolphins for the sake of the population. Food can be used in different ways but in this case, food causes more harm than profit.


Transforming Momotaro

The image of Momotaro undergoes a transformation that is influenced by the changes that continue to be made throughout Japanese history. The classic Momotaro image originates from a popular Japanese folklore tale in which he is born from a peach and soon becomes a heroic figure of the land. As he becomes older he ventures to distant islands to defeat the evil oni and saves the creatures of distant islands alongside a group of animals he befriends throughout his journey. In these folktales, Momotaro is seen defending the distant islands form the demonic invaders alongside his friends to maintain peace within the island. Nevertheless, as these folktales continue to be passed on to other generations, the new issues that Japan faces calls for inverted images of this well-known character in films and propaganda to promote these issues. Although the character’s actions in these films may resemble the original folktale, there exists a hidden negative image of the character that creates doubts about how heroic Momotaro can be. Momotaro is manipulated into a hero that best suits the time period and the most inverted image of Momotaro can be seen in World War II propaganda.

The story of Momotaro is said to have originated as far back as the Edo Period which was a time of economic growth and balance since Japan had been recovering from instability and inner conflicts. The ideals of the people during this period can be found amongst this folklore tale in the actions and goals that Momotaro wishes to accomplish in the story as well as the beginnings of Momotaro. He is born from a peach which is symbolic of the prosperity of the Japanese empire during this time. In Japanese traditions, the peach represents longevity hence in this case Momotaro is the Japanese empire which was thought to be prosperous by the people and continued to be prosperous for many years. The boy’s attack of the oni symbolizes the past hardships which were overcome leading to a life of living happily ever after similar to the ending of the story. The reason for this success is due to his effectiveness as a leader when it comes to battle. Momotaro keeps full control of his group of friends by presenting them with millet dumplings but limits the amount he gives them as a means of asserting his authority. He manages to keep this group together by demonstrating that he is the clear leader of the group who not only leads but ensures his group is cared for, content, and respected. This method is representative of the means used to create balance in Japan. During this time there is one clear leader, the emperor, and the people are accepting of this social ranking because the people are maintained satisfied and at peace knowing there are no existing problems currently in Japan for the time being. Overall, the tale focuses on the idea of removing the impurities that pose a threat to the peace at hand similar to the changes that Japan made to bring peace to the land. Momotaro is the peacekeeper of the tale, but once World War II began, a more controversial Momotaro began appearing in films and cartoons such as Momotaro’s Sea Eagles.


Momotaro defeats the evil ogres in combat in the classic Japanese tale.

Once World War II began, Japan began mass producing anti-American propaganda in support of the war. Films, cartoons, and all other forms of media reflected the hatred towards the United States using existing well-known icons of Japan such as Momotaro going up against typical American icons such as Mickey Mouse or Popeye the Sailor. In 1942, a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, an animated film called Momotaro’s Sea Eagles was produced as a Japanese propaganda film.In Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, Momotaro and his animal crew are at war with the demons of Onigashima and Momotaro must devise a plan to defeat these demons while ensuring his entire crew returns safely. The film follows the basic plot of the story in which Momotaro is destined to lead a group of animals to combat the evils that threaten an island and recover the treasure that is meant for the “good people”. The difference in the film and tale is that the demons in this film represent the Americans and the naval fleet used in the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 whereas the demons in the tale symbolized the evils amongst a nation. Although Momotaro is once again represented as a hero of Japan, the measures taken to protect his country reveal the character to be more violent because rather than destroying ogres, he is now shown destroying innocent lives represented as villains. His motives also contribute to this negative image because he not only defends his country because the demons impose a threat to the country, but also because of the inexplicit hatred towards the demons.


Bluto represents how the Japanese view Americans as tough, angry fools in Momotaro’s Sea Eagles.

In the film, Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, Momotaro is the leader of the army and commands his soldiers to attack the demons of Onigashima which are shown to be American sailors on naval fleets. The sailors which are depicted by a more idiotic version of Bluto, a featured character of the American cartoon Popeye, appear to be helpless in the film. Nevertheless, the reason to attack these “demons” is never specified in the film imposing the question of whether or not the measures taken by the honorable Momotaro are morally correct. He is quick to lead an attack and destroy the villains until they are all gone because the film is a representation of the current war going on. Instead of creating a diversion that will cause the men to surrender such as in the story when he fights until the ogres decide to surrender, he continues to sink all the ships along with all the sailors on board. The idea that these are people being destroyed also contributes to the negative image because he is not dealing with supernatural beings that terrorize his land but rather humans which creates more tensions since it may be difficult to see men lose their lives in war. In the film, Momotaro continues to be the hero since he has saved the country from the Americans as desired by many during the wartime period. Yet the concept of war manages to generate the anti-hero image of this character because he is responsible for the loss of the men aboard the ships. At the end of the war he does not win any treasure that he can give back to his country as in the original story meaning he in reality has destroyed others for the satisfaction of knowing his country is dominant over the United States. Momotaro transforms from being a smiling, child-like heroic figure to a more mature, aggressive, and stern leader willing to do anything necessary to win this war.momomo


Classic Momotaro(below) is more unified with his group as opposed to military style-Momotaro(above)who commands a whole army of animals and stays out of group actions.

Momotaro’s increase in authority in the anime accounts for the lowering of his heroic stature rather than making his image more valiant. In the tale, Momotaro unites with a dog, monkey, and a pheasant and fights alongside them as they recover the treasure of the good people from the ogres terrorizing the island. He exhibits his heroic qualities by sacrificing his life alongside the other animals for the common good and they are successful due to working together. In Momotaro’s Sea Eagles, rather than fly alongside the pilots of the planes and join them in combat, Momotaro is the leader giving specific orders to the crew but does not leave the ship to join his crew. Instead he gives the crew orders to follow and remains on the boat awaiting the full crew’s arrival after the mission is successful. The crew he has is much larger than in the tale yet here he does not take the initiative of deciding to be involved in the war. Therefore, rather than Momotaro be the hero of this mission, the true heroes of the mission are the monkey and dog pilots who risked their lives bombing the demon ships. Yet because this operation was made possible by Momotaro, he is still considered a hero by all.



Gourmet Exoticism

Tanizaki Jun’ichiro’s The Gourmet Club portrays food as erotic tool that sets a group of five men to embark on a search for the ideal food cuisine. One day the leader of the group, Count G, finds a private restaurant he is drawn to by the Chinese cuisine offered, due to the lack of authentic Chinese food in Tokyo.  Nevertheless, their goal to obtain an orchestral cuisine is only achieved once they utilize their endless imaginations to achieve a taste like no other. Tanizaki Jun’ichiro implements the idea of continuity of new food cuisines to emphasize the concept of exoticism in The Gourmet Club.

When Count G returns to his club, he features food dishes which appear to be common Chinese dishes which feature tastes unfamiliar to the club members. Count G’s argument to achieve better tasting food is to taste food “with their eyes, their noses, their ears and at times with their skins. At the risk of exaggerating, every part of them had to become a tongue”(121). Each individual has different views and reactions the food they consume therefore a dish is only as exotic as the individual allows it to be. The more the men exaggerate about the aspects of the food, the better the food will taste and the more exotic the dishes become to the gentlemen. When the bok choy fingers are served, they are served using erotic techniques to prepare the men for a different cuisine experiences. Before they ate, a young woman would rub her face against his, caress his neck, and give him a facial massage to seduce the man into believing the woman’s fingers were inside his mouth when eating the bok choy (135-136). The individuals create these visions in their minds and hence gain a new cuisine experience that satisfies their constant desire for exotic dishes.

The men of the Gourmet Club are consumed by the idea of searching for fine cuisine to the point where their senses cause them to slowly lose their sanity. “They no longer merely “taste” or eat” fine cuisine, but are “consumed” by it and could only lead to two outcomes, either raging lunacy or death” (138) because these men cannot be kept from creating new forms of cuisine. Since the Count’s course depending on a combination of senses, his creations became more exotic as he experimented with food that can be felt moving inside one (Bok Choy Fingers) to food that can be worn (Deep Fried Woman). Their use of imagination calls for an expansion of possibilities for food experiences which they are desperate to taste even if it may be the last meal they ever have.

Exoticism is revealed through the character’s never-ending desires for exotic cuisines. Throughout the story, the characters continuously think about what new foods they should try next and there is never a stop to the creation of exotic foods. The old style of eating is irrelevant therefore allowing new exotic styles to prevail in The Gourmet Club.

United By Food

In Itami Jūzo’s Tampopo, Japanese culinary arts are portrayed as an extremely important factor of everyday culture and business which affects people of all ages from the young to the elderly. The film parodies the idea that all dishes including traditional common dishes such as ramen play a key role in the success of the Japanese economy. Although globalization is demonstrated to be occurring, the importance of the traditional culture remains strong in Japan. As demonstrated throughout the movie, businessmen and commoners alike all vehemently attempt to find or consume the best tasting food available. This urge hence leads to a greater consumption of food which in return is responsible for the growth of the economy of Japan who is constantly attempting to expand through the use of food.

mother and child

The mother caresses her child as he contently enjoys his mother’s milk and bond together as one.

       The final scene of Tampopo involves a mother nursing her infant on a bright day in the park accompanied by the sounds of a carnival in the background. The woman and her nursing child are shown siting on a bench at an eye-level medium shot which slowly transitions into an eye-level close up shot of the infant contently nursing from the mother.

         The mother is a symbol of the people who consume food and aids in the maintenance of the Japanese economy. Based on how the mother is dressed in this scene, it is difficult to determine whether her diet consumes of only traditional foods such as ramen or a mixture of traditional along with other types of cuisines. But, it does not matter what she consumes because she must eat in order to produce milk for the child. This discrepancy in her eating emphasizes the unity found in Japanese food despite the globalization taking place. Both foods such as ramen and French foods help fuel important people much like the businessmen are powered by French cuisine and Tampopo makes a living selling ramen.


(Left) The gentleman reveals his knowledge of French cuisine by requesting specific French drinks, (Right) Tampopo found in her new restaurant made possible by her success as a ramen chef as revealed through her attire.

           The child nursing is a symbol of the Japanese culture which thrives on food. As mentioned before, the milk produced by mother will not differ depending on what she eats much like the economy will not differ if traditional food is sold alongside other cuisines. In the film, the more aristocratic people cater to exotic cuisine while the commoners are content with ramen hence revealing a sense a unity among each other by food that is demonstrated though the unity formed by the dependence of the child for the mother’s milk.

         The music in the background evokes a sense of peace which is seen after the child receives what he wants. The happiness of the child combined with the joyful tone of the music reveal the conclusion that there will continue to be positive growth so long as the food needs of all are met. Throughout the film, different characters whether they remained alive or dead in some cases, retained a positive attitude at the end due to eating what they enjoyed hence making this end scene a significant image that emphasizes the purpose of the film.