Category Archives: assignments

Red Meat: The Bond of the Typical American Family

Ruth Ozeki’s My Year of Meats follows unemployed documentarian Jane Takagi-Little on her experience working as a producer for a Japanese TV show called My American Wife, which is sponsored by a Texas-based meat industry lobby organization called Beef-Ex. To continue the pattern of westernization in Japan, My American Wife features American wives demonstrating the steps to simple American recipes that contain red meat and can be performed at home for a family dinner. At the typical American family dinner table, red meat represents the main dish that unites each family member to bond with each other by sharing the dish. In order to establish a bond for the Japanese family during dinnertime, Jane Takagi-Little emphasizes the modern American tradition of serving red meat at the dinner table.

As the main purpose of the TV Show, red meat, instead of the American housewife, is the star of My American Wife. Sponsored by Beef-Ex, My American Wife wants Japanese housewives to “feel the hearty sense of warmth, of comfort, of hearth and home – the traditional family values symbolized by red meat in rural America” (Ozeki 8). Normally, the typical Japanese family indulges in light-tasting dishes, such as seafood, rice, soup, and vegetables. Although these dishes are light in flavor, the Japanese consider this cuisine as a commonplace in their culture. However, red meat, an “attractive, appealing, all-American dish,” gives the Japanese a sense of both westernization and modernization with the appeal of the American culture. As Japan becomes more of a Western-cultured civilization with the increase of American fast food places and red meat at the markets, it is reasonable for home-cooked meals to include the use of red meat as a main dish.

In order for the audience to gain interest in American red meat cuisine, Ruth Ozeki’s word choice to describe the purpose of the show creates a warm and persuasive tone. For example, the passage emphasizes how red meat brings the “hearty” sense of “warmth,” “comfort,” “hearth,” and “home.” (Ozeki 8) Instead of having the normal Japanese dinner, the Japanese should try something that would provides tons of flavor while producing the pleasant feeling of comfort while consuming the dish made of red meat. Ozeki wants to appeal to the Japanese housewives so their family members can intensify the feeling of comfort at home while enjoying their meal as a family. By intensifying this comfortable feeling, this allows family members to endure in bonding with sharing the amiability of their main dish of hearty red meat.

By emphasizing the value of bonding as a family as well as the use of red meat at the dinner table, the American tradition of the culinary concoction of red meat allows the Japanese housewife and her family to experience the ways at the dinner table of the modern American family.  As a rising country in the westernization of cuisine, utilizing red meat in home-cooked meals allows the typical Japanese family to meet the modern expectations of the modern westernized Japanese culture.

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The Truth Within The Meat

Many may not know what truths lay behind one’s nation. They may be unaware of the horrendous scenes that take place as they can only see the unscathed masks presented to them. This idea can be seen throughout Louie Psyhoyos’s documentary, The Cove. In his documentary, former dolphin trainer, Ric O’Barry and his crew are seen investigating Japanese dolphin killings in the city of Taiji. His main mission is to exploit the gruesome killings and put an end to the dolphin massacre. Throughout his journey, many connections with food are made as dolphin meat is used not only for economical purposes but for national pride as well. Through the use of dolphin meat in this documentary, advances toward spreading the truth of the dolphin hunts and stopping them are made.

The first example to show how dolphin meat is used in the documentary can be seen when pedestrians are questioned about eating it. Throughout the documentary, many examples of the residents are shown to be unaware of the dolphin eating and killing. A prime example can be seen when a pedestrian is interviewed as shown in this screen shot:Image

“A pedestrian in a state of confusion when told of dolphins being eaten in Japan”

In this screen shot, the old lady becomes in a state of confusion and shock when the news of eaten dolphins were told to her. This just shows how the city of Taiji and Japan were able to cover up the fact that they were hunting dolphins and selling them in the forms of entertainment and meat. Also, coupled along with this idea, are when the families go to the market and see the dolphin meat for sale. Due to the Japanese government and their little tactic of mislabeling, they are able to hide the dolphin killings. Not only are they buying it, they are buying mercury infected dolphin meat. The little fact that many Japanese residents were unaware of such a crisis just shows how important it is to uncover the truth and spread it. Besides the selling of dolphin meat, Japan also used it in order to gain national pride.

The next example to show how dolphin meat was used to make advances in spreading the truth can be seen when dolphin meat began to become a sense of national pride. This idea can be seen when it was stated in the documentary that dolphin meat was a part of the Japanese culture and that they should be able to kill and eat dolphins. To further this idea, it can be seen when dolphin meat began to play a part in children’s lives as seen in the screen shot below:

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“Young students are given dolphin meat as school lunch”

This screen shot specifically shows how the Japanese wanted to show how much dolphin meat meant to them and their culture. They were willing to feed their children, and basically their future, mercury infected dolphin meat. The children did not know of this poisoning, but since it was part of their tradition, they ate it. Besides the fact that the Japanese were giving out dolphin meat to schools to use as lunch, they used it as a way to explain their hunts and justify them. An ironic statement that should be made about this idea of tradition is the fact that people are unaware that their culture eats dolphins as seen in the previous screen shot. If dolphin meat was a part of their nation’s ideology, then why were their so many people oblivious to this fact?  If the people asked questions like this and wondered where their meat came from, then ending the dolphin hunting would be that much closer. This just shows how dolphin meat was used as a way to progress their mission.

The last example to show how dolphin meat was used as a way to advance the spreading of the hunt and stop it can be seen when the dolphin killings were made public by O’Barry. The crew managed to obtain clips of the killings and was made public as can be seen in the screenshot below:

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“O’Barry carrying a monitor showing the killings of the dolphins”

In this scene, O’Barry is publicizing the dolphin hunt and only a few stop to watch. As the clip progresses, more and more people stop to see and finally learn of the killings. They become enlightened and now realized that the dolphin meat at school came from this, came from the horrendous actions done at Taiji. This clip basically sums up the documentary’s mission as it shows how the spreading of the horror is slowly progressing.

The documentary was capable of spreading the news of the dolphin hunt through the use of dolphin meat as the method of obtaining it was exposed. Many of the Japanese were unaware of the killings and a conflicting sense of national pride arose. Even with the publicizing of the killings, it is up to the people to question where their meat came from and to stop the killings.

The Cove-A Real Life Heist Movie

In the 2009 documentary film, The Cove, director Louie Psihoyos analyzes, questions, and exposes Japan’s dolphin hunting culture. The film serves as a call to action to bring an end to mass dolphin slaughter, to change Japanese fishing practices, and to inform the general public of the atrocities being committed to these animals and the health risks (particularly the increased hazard of mercury poising) associated with consuming dolphin meat. The filmmakers emphasized the secrecy involved in capturing the footage to establish a “spy movie” quality to the movie and, as a result, draw in a wider audience than the typical documentary film fan. However, this secret filming, in combination with the portrayal of the Japanese people, elicited great controversy surrounding The Cove’s release.

Louie Psihoyos undercover

Louie Psihoyos undercover

In the opening scene of the film (featured above) the film’s director, Louie Psihoyos, is featured in the passenger seat of a car driving through Japan. He is shown with a medical mask covering a good portion of his face. He then introduces the audience to the secrecy involved in dolphin hunting in Japan and that exposing the industry is illegal. In this way, a sense of civil-duty and urgency is established and Louie Psihoyos places himself and the crew in a position of importance and power. It is also important that Psihoyos addresses the illegal aspect of their mission in this light because it justifies their illegal actions and argues that illegal actions must be taken if the laws being broken are unjust. However, the opening scene is ironic because of the facemask covering Louie’s face; in attempting to expose the dolphin hunting industry, the filmmakers have to cover and hide themselves. The secrecy also establishes a “spy-like” quality to the documentary. The spy movie feeling is further pushed when the footage is presented in green light for night filming, negative effect, and secret-taping footage. This employment of spy genre movie techniques is vital to the success of the documentary because it is able to appeal to a wider audience and makes the dolphin slaughter appear even more corrupt through the establishing of the “forces of good vs. evil.” However, the film techniques used in the making of this movie, such as secret filming, led to much of the controversy that surrounded its release.

Ric O'Barry in an intimate embrace with a dolphin

Ric O’Barry in an intimate embrace with a dolphin

Another important aspect that led to the success of the film was the personal relationship established between dolphins and humans. The film’s main social actor, Ric O’Barry, discusses his experience with dolphins through his involvement with the Flipper television show. He states that he knows that dolphins are self-aware. This idea is crucial in separating dolphins from other animals like pigs and cows that are also slaughtered for food production. If dolphins are aware of themselves and their surroundings, then they can be viewed as more similar to humans than to other animals and it is then inhumane to slaughter them for meat. This idea is essential in drawing sympathy and compassion on behalf of the dolphins from the film’s audience. The above image of Ric O’Barry in loving embrace with a dolphin epitomizes this concept.

Blood from dolphin slaughter filling a cove in Japan

Blood from dolphin slaughter filling a cove in Japan

This image is taken from perhaps the most important moment in the film. In this screenshot the blood from the slaughter of dolphins is revealed for the first time. The dark red of the blood is significant because it is a visual reminder of just how many dolphins must have been slaughtered and because it is seen in direct contrast with the tranquil blue of the surrounding ocean. This serves as a metaphor that stresses that dolphin slaughter is in direct conflict with nature. It is also important because the presence of dolphin slaughter can no longer be ignored or swept under the rug. From this point forward, the audience is forced to decide to answer the film’s call for action and the Japanese people must face this aspect of their culture out in the open. In this way, consumers must consider what they are willing to look past or abandon morally in order to maintain a diet they are accustomed to.

In the creation of a modern day, real life “heist” film, director Louie Psihoyos turns The Cove into one of the most viewed documentary films released in the past 10 years. As a result, a wide audience of once ignorant viewers has been introduced to a serious travesty plaguing the dolphin hunting industry in Japan. The issue is magnified still through the humanization of the dolphins. As a result, the audience must face the harsh realities of dolphin meat consumption and remember the images of the blood-red cove in making future food purchases. In this way, despite the controversy sparked by the questions of morality sparked by secret filming, the film is effective in bringing awareness to a serious issue in today’s food industry and force the audience to serve as the driving force in creating serious change for both the future of the dolphins and of the human race.

The Cove: Duality in Documentary

In The Cove, director Louie Psihoyos presents the issue of dolphin slaughter by Japanese fishermen in the context of a participatory and expository documentary film. The film not only provides a background on the subject but also depicts the filmmaker and his group of activists as they actively try to tackle the issue head-on. By presenting the overarching issue in an expository fashion side-by-side with the depiction of the director’s real-life participation in the discussion, The Cove works as an extremely successful piece of propaganda that somewhat demonizes the Japanese fishermen and government. This allows Psihoyos to more effectively win the trust and hopefully support of the audience.

The film makes use of a more expository approach in order to give the audience a basic idea of the killing of dolphins in Japan. The film uses footage from other sources of media including Minamata: The Victims and Their World and Flipper as well as provides a detailed account of the life and accomplishments of one Ric O’Barry, who is one of the main characters in the film. By using a more disconnected, seemingly objective approach, Psihoyos is able to distance his own opinions from the information that he is presenting to the audience. Although it is always obvious what side of the issue he is trying to push when he speaks directly to the camera, for the rest of the time he seems to be simply giving indisputable proof of the vice that is the hunting of dolphins. Viewers witness the transformation of Ric O’Barry from a dolphin trainer and television pioneer to a selfless and regretful protector of sea mammals, the barbed wire and heavy security fences that seal off a cove that is known as a spot where dolphins are caught and killed, and the possible effects of the mercury that taints the dolphin meat that is mislabeled and sold to ignorant consumers. These sections of the film are some of the most persuasive and allow the filmmakers to gain the trust and support of their viewers so that when they begin to participate in the events of the film it is implied that it’s the natural, necessary, and moral thing to do.

For most of the documentary, the director is directly involved in the events that are unfolding and unapologetically fights for one side of the debate, or the side against the slaughter of dolphins in Japan. Through this more participatory approach, the film takes on the tone of a struggle between good and evil since the characters are closely tied to the audience since they address the camera directly. The director and his crew of activists document as they go to Taiji and struggle against the establishment there that supports the killing of dolphins and allows the meat to be sold and mislabeled despite the fact that it is potentially dangerous due to high mercury levels. Seemingly unreasonable fishermen and police follow the team mercilessly and force them to find more creative ways to get the footage they need to raise awareness and get proof that the horrible slaughter is happening. Through all of this, Psihoyos and his crew interview various characters in the film as well as provide their own stories and opinions. This technique of depicting the active participation of the filmmakers in the events of the film causes the viewer to see the events that unfold as a fight between right and wrong and since the director and his team are the ones talking the most, they become the de facto “right” side and the Japanese fishermen and local officials become the bad guys. The filmmakers get more sympathy from the audience because they are more visible and relatable since they provide the most commentary and insight to the audience. Therefore, the audience is likely to side with them after watching them directly trying to stop the hunting of dolphins in Taiji. Therefore, by also relying on the genre of participatory documentary, The Cove can more persuasively present the cause of dolphin preservation.

By mixing the genres of participatory and expository documentary, The Cove makes a more credible and convincing case against the killing of dolphins for their meat. The expository sections build credibility and present facts that can be interpreted as proof of the evil of killing dolphins and whales and the corruption of the institutions that allow it to continue. The scenes in which the director and company intervene in the events of the film are also persuasive as they put the viewer on the same side of the conflict as the filmmaker, which hopefully leads them to also support the cause that the film is trying to raise awareness for. The blending of the genres of documentary in The Cove is not only a successful method of propaganda but also creates a engaging and fresh perspective on a interesting issue.

Ric O'Barry with the original Flipper in one of the expository sections of the film.

Ric O’Barry with the original Flipper in one of the expository sections of the film.

Footage of Japanese fishermen slaughtering dolphins in the cove in Taiji.

Footage of Japanese fishermen slaughtering dolphins in the cove in Taiji.

The filmmakers/activists plan their next move to get footage of the slaughter.

The filmmakers/activists plan their next move to get footage of the slaughter.

The Cove: Call It a “Culture”

This is a documentary film that documents dolphin slaughtering in Taiji, Japan. The main starring of this documentary is Ric O’Barry, a former Sea Shepherd member and former dolphin trainer. The documentary opens with the filming crew members are being kept out from the “private area”. After the director Louie Psihoyos comes up with idea of hiding cameras in rocks, the moment gets proceed again. With the idea and direction, the team soon groups up people who has talent in certain fields, like scientist and divers. Before going further, the film introduces some historical backgrounds and mercury poisoning. After everything is been well prepared, the crew goes out in real action. In first attempt, they place a sound receiver into the water and run away from the guards. As the zoon is seen to be extremely important to the town people, the crews are questioned by the town’s governors. In the second action, they place several rock cameras onto the positions and await the slaughter happens. They finally capture the evidence of the dolphin slaughtering in Taiji, and Ric O’Barry even bring it to the IWC (International Whaling Commission) meeting. In the end, the whole action has brought out some positive results such as dolphin meat is removed from Taiji school lunch menu.

First, the documentary film is from an ocean conservationist’s point of view, so the idea of the film is more negative from a neutral standard point of view towards the event. Most of ideas and concept in the documentary are from Ric O’Barry’s personal opinions. Ric O’Barry, who used to be a dolphin trainer and participated in a famous television show called “Flipper”, quit his old job after his two dolphins died. He thinks dolphin is sensitive, communicable and has individuality just like human. He thinks his second dolphin is suicide, which the term rarely uses to animals.

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Ric and his dolphin

From the image above we can see that Ric’s smile to his dolphin is genuine, bosom and full of love. It is not possible for a randomly picked person to do what he has done for dolphins. His love to dolphins is so passionate, and it may has become his “culture”, It is this passion encouraged the old man to do everything he can to save dolphins anywhere around the world; and this time it was in Taiji, Japan.

Taiji is a little town in Japan, but it is the primary supplier for worldwide dolphin entertainment industry.

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Dolphin supplement map

 

The town’s fishermen capture and sell dolphins for profit. Trainers from all different aquariums come to this place and choose their equipment, and the leftovers are killed by those Japanese. According to the film, each dolphin worth $150,000 and 23,000 dolphins are killed in Japan every year. Killed dolphins are manufactured as dolphin meat sold in Taiji’s supermarket and as fake expensive whale meat in other cities.

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Dolphin blood and devils

The above scene is where the slaughter takes place. Those Japanese kill too many dolphins at the same time that the seawater even turned into scarlet red by dolphin blood. They use spear to kill dolphins and salve the bodies to boat after they die. Such a massacre happens every year but ironically most of Japanese people live in metropolitan don’t know about it. Although the film doesn’t point out directly, it is clear that the Japanese government is the one behind the inhumane slaughter. They know already that dolphin meat contains very high portion of mercury through food chain, and selling dolphin meat to its civilian and even using dolphin meat for children’s lunch meal can dramatically increase the chance of getting Minamata disease. Japan is significantly a country that has suffered from mercury poisoning. And the cause of getting the situation worse during the Minamata incident was because of Japanese government’s slow action. Now the government even gets worse; controls the media and covers up the whole thing. The townspeople are saying it is their culture to kill dolphins. Maybe they’re right; it is the Japanese government’s culture to harm its own civilian and ignore their pains because it gets benefits from their suffering.

Regardless of whether there is law that sets number for dolphin’s predation on fish in Japan, but the law itself is made by us and it should only be enforced to human but no other creatures. We have no right to destruct the entire nature for our own good, but now we are slowly digging our own graves. Wisdom is a gift that given to us to develop technology and civilization, but it’s also a wall that separates us from nature. Perhaps after all creations and civilizations, we find destruction is ours the most primitive culture.

An Emotional Crusade Against Dolphin Killings

The Cove takes on the task of uncovering the truth behind the thousands of dolphins being killed each year in order to feed the demand of Japanese consumers. Director Louie Psihoyos task is to convince us as viewers that these massive dolphin hunts that are being undertaken in Taiji, Japan are a massive ecological crime that the world must know about. The main protagonists throughout the film is dolphin trainer Ric O’Barry. His personal connection to the capture of dolphins for television studios and aquariums has instilled in him the view that the capture of dolphins is a reprehensible act. Not to even mention the killing of them. To support his position he does not present a rational argument stating that the capture or killing is a waste or unnecessary. No! Instead he presents the heartful story of the tragic passing of a dolphin that he had worked with on the set of the television show Flipper. Barry’s image of him describing the details that propelled this dolphin to commit suicide are purposely meant to invoke an emotional response. The image of the “smilling’ Flipper is in contrast to O’Barry’s claim that  this dolphin had decided to take its own life. (Image 1). This comparison of these two contradictory ideas gives the viewer a sense of how far from the truth is the reality of dolphins who live in captivity. This early scene in the film sets up the entire rest of the film as it shows the journey that these filmmakers have to take in order to find out the truth as to what is happening in the cove at Taiji.

One of the original 'Flipper' dolphins

 

The ultimate goal of the entire film is to end both the use of dolphins at aquariums, but more importantly end the killing of dolphins in Taiji. From the very beginning of the film O’Barry describes how the artificial environment that is an aquarium leads to a series of health problems for captive dolphins. The noise of machinery and people at these aquariums places a lot of stress on the animals. This is why twelve minutes into the film we are presented with these beautiful scenes of dolphins out in the ocean. (Image 2). Jumping in and out of the water in groups of three or four. Psihoyos wants to impress upon us how a dolphin should live according to his viewpoint. It has to be free in the ocean in order for it to roam and swim free. In captivity is not where it needs to be. While a cove in Taiji where dolphins are sent to be killed is just a crime against these amazing animals that has to end. The visual image of the free dolphins in the ocean is a stark contrast to the brutality and extent to which these dolphins are killed for consumption.

Dolphins roaming the ocean. How the film makers views dolphins should live.

Dolphins roaming the ocean. How the film makers views dolphins should live.

Sitting there in the meat section of a Japanese supermarket is the image of a small piece of what is implied to be dolphin meat. (Image 3) Marketed as whale meat, this piece is stated to be most likely dolphin meat that is being passed as much more appealing whale meat. This is to say that those Japanese shoppers who go into the supermarket are unaware that they are being lied upon in the name of profits. O’Barry asks what would be the reaction of the Japanese consumer to the news that what they believe to be exotic whale meat, a meat whose consumption is controversial in itself, is in reality dolphin. Psihoyos message here is that the cause of the killings at Taiji is both the decision of the Japanese consumer to eat whale, that the film also implies should not be eaten, and the deception that the food industry has undertaken in order to hide the reality of dolphin meat. It is the belief of the makers of the film that these killings would end if the general public knew what was happening in Taiji.

Whale/dolphin meat

Here it is implied that what we are seeing is dolphin being passed as whale meat.

 

The ideology behind this film is that of a moral crusade against a dark secret that this cove has hidden from prying eyes. The very beginning of the film we are presented with a character in disguise as a Japanese elderly man entering the town in where the secret resides. Cameras hidden in rocks, the use of night vision capable film equipment, and the trespassing into the area surrounding the cove all give to this sense of danger. A feeling is presented in that these activists in the film are on a moral endeavor that will place them in many dangerous situations. Though, the goal of combating that inconspicuous piece of meat (Image 3) found inside Japanese is well worth all of these obstacles. At the end of the film the viewer is expected to demonstrate anger at these fisherman who catch dolphins. The images of smiling flipper, and those of the meat in the supermarket are meant to be two contradictory images that is designed to arouse the emotions of the audience. The hope is that viewers will be outraged at the idea that is dolphin meat.

Dolphins and Intersubjectivity

The documentary film The Cove attempts to demonstrate that eating dolphin meat is unethical by showing that dolphins are intelligent animals that experience pain as humans do. Recognizing intelligence in other animals allows humans to relate to the animal and feel empathy towards them. Intersubjectivity; the idea that the ability to experience another being as a subject, as opposed to an object, allows one to experience empathy; plays a critical role on determining the ethics of killing/eating animals because it allows the range humans can feel empathy towards. By showing footage of psychological experiments which demonstrates the intelligence of dolphins, the film attempts to broaden the range of the audience’s intersubjectivity and appeals to them that killing/eating dolphin is unethical.

Why is dolphin killing/eating unethical? Although The Cove touches upon the risk of mercury poisoning for prohibition, the major claim the film makes is that killing/eating intelligent animals is a matter of ethics rather than food safety. How does intelligence, then, determine the ethics of animal killing/eating? The assumption that intelligence correlates to the capacity of feeling pain is used to argue killing/eating intelligent animals is unethical. However, it may be quite difficult to determine whether other animals including dolphins experience pain the same way humans do.

Then what determines the ethics of making an animal experience pain? Why is it acceptable to kill an unintelligent chicken, but unethical to kill a dolphin? Intersubjectivity allows humans to feel empathy towards other beings, and intelligence determines the range of creatures that allows intersubjectivity to occur. Intersubjectivity can be expanded to the realm of dolphins, allowing humans to assume they experience pain the same way we do. The film argues that projecting our empathy into the mind of a dolphin is not difficult because of the results of several psychological experiments that apparently demonstrate high levels of intelligence in dolphins. If dolphins think like we do, the film argues, they can feel pain as we do, and making them feel pain would be unethical.

The film shows three psychological experiments performed on dolphins.

Reactiontime measurement

Reactiontime measurement

 

Reaction time measurement shows evidence that dolphins have advanced ability to respond to a stimulus.

Working memory test

Working memory test

Working memory test demonstrates the existence of short term memory in dolphins which hints the capacity of meta-cognition.

The mirror stage

The mirror stage

The mirror stage shows the ability to recognize oneself objectively, hinting that dolphins go through the process of self-identification

Although the first two experiments recognize advanced intelligence in dolphins, the third experiment is yet again a matter of intersubjectivity. Dolphins and other animals such as the great apes may recognize oneself in the mirror; however whether these animals go through the same self-identification process which Lacan theorized as the mirror-stage is highly questionable. It is more likely that humans are projecting themselves into the reflection of dolphins and making a leap of logic.

By showing footage of psychological experiments performed on dolphins, The Cove attempts to demonstrate dolphins as intelligence animals that have the ability to experience human-like pain. Whether dolphins can experience pain like humans do is indeterminable, for evidence of pain experience in dolphins may merely be humans trying to intersubjectively project their own experience into dolphins. Claiming dolphin killing/eating unethical from the perspective of dolphins experiencing pain is questionable.

Ethnocentrism in The Cove

          The critically acclaimed film, The Cove, follows Ric O’Barry, the trainer and star of the television show, Flipper, who has since dedicated his life for the justice of dolphins around the world. The documentary’s premise is to expose the tragic dolphin hunt that happens annually in Taiji, Japan to bring the attention to this inhumane practice and act as a call to action to stop the slaughter. In this sense, the film has succeeded as the shock value of the film has resonated with the American public, and is portrayed as being brought the surface by the courageous efforts of the American film crew. Yet, the aim of the movie is to seemingly change a Japanese practice so it fails to stimulate change within the culture as the movie is targeted so far from a Japanese audience. The film, instead, takes a moralistic stance that tugs on the heartstrings of the American public to bring awareness towards this act. Though the film’s initial objective may have been to expose a small group of people on the shores of Wakayama, it clearly imposes Western standards on Japan’s policies, customs, and values, which is particularly evident in the coverage of Japan’s whaling policies. The film was successful in shedding light on the cruelty of Taiji’s dolphin slaughter and certainly is effective in capturing the tension and playing up the danger, but it has done so at the cost of the misunderstanding of the Japanese people’s food culture. By imposing the Western standards and values on Japanese culture, the film adopts an ethnocentric psyche that discredits the issue at hand.

          The problem with The Cove is that the issue is deeper than “greedy” Japanese fisherman killing dolphins and is instead an intrinsic culturally related problem. It is not stated that whaling and the consumption of dolphins has been a tradition that can be followed back to the Edo period of Japan in the film nor do the filmmakers demonstrate any understanding of the Japanese culture. That is not to say that this is a nation wide tradition, as is evident by the portrayal of the Tokyo citizens in the film, but a tradition that deserves a certain degree of respect nonetheless. Additionally, it is important to note that the idea of tradition not be used as an excuse to conduct inhumane practices but instead it demonstrates that had the cultural aspect of consuming dolphins as a form of food been addressed, the film could actually be effective in achieving their goal. By dismissing dolphin meat as food at all, Psihoyos dismisses the people of Taiji’s food culture altogether as an inhumane practice, and dehumanizes the people themselves by degrading their culture as being less civilized than that of the West. Furthermore, it was not too long ago that meat in Japan was addressed in the same manner as exemplified in Fuzukawa Yukichi’s, “On Meat Eating”, where he states, “There remain many people who blindly dislike [using meat], saying that meat eating is filthy, in accordance with the customs our nation has followed for many long centuries.” He goes on further saying, “This is a specious argument born out of ignorant blindness that demonstrates a lack of knowledge.” Ironically, Fukuzawa strengthens his argument for meat eating by expressing that cow meat is much easier to process than whale meat, as if the consumption of whale meat was an integral food group as cows are to the West, “People never express such misgivings when we catch whales and eat their meat.” This further illustrates the polarized cultural rift between the East and the West that demonstrates how easy it is to perpetuate this misunderstanding and dismissal of cultural practices.

One of the most prominent arguments that Psihoyo makes in his argument against the Japanese consumption of dolphins is the fact that they are high in the food chain, thus mercury levels are biomagnified to a toxic level in their meat. It is evident that by utilizing this platform, O’Barry’s is able to orient their animal rights agenda with a human rights violation that defends his stance against dolphin as a commodity. Regardless of whether O’Barry’s concern over mercury poisoning as a result of dolphin consumption is a byproduct of his initial aim, the fact that there is a prospect that the Japanese market contains possibilities of mercury food poising is still prominent. Clearly, this is the film’s strongest argument against the slaughter of dolphins and yet it seems to be contrived and dismissed instead of grasping the opportunity to be a real informational source for the citizens of Taiji. Although there is an older generation of Taiji who feel as though whaling and consuming dolphin meat is an intrinsic part of their culture, the only realistic approach to ending this dolphin hunt is to cut off the demand by informing and educating the younger generation about the real risks of consuming this meat. It is this generational difference that may be the only feasible act that may stop this dolphin hunt and the fact that the documentary did little to address the Japanese audience as a call to action is counterproductive in its cause.

The differences in food culture and its correlation with one’s values are evident in The Cove but it does little to make an ecological conservation argument. Instead, it underscores how dolphins have human-like qualities that should resonate with people emotionally. By humanizing dolphins and in turn dehumanizing the Japanese fisherman, turns an objective look at a cultural problem into an American versus Japanese story about how these cruel fishermen hunt innocent animals. This sets up a hegemonic role that is able to twist the message of the film into something manipulative that is more interested in enlisting foreign support than informing the perpetrators at hand and victims at risk. If the filmmakers could exhibit the sensibility and sensitivity to the culture they were scrutinizing, it could have had the potential to make a real impact on the cause.

The Construction of “We” and “Them” in The Cove

Released in 2009, The Cove is a documentary meant to expose the corrupt and secretive practices of dolphin slaughter in Taiji, Japan, and subsequent distribution of mercury-laden dolphin meat in Japanese markets. In The Cove, Louie Psihoyos creates a sense of a collective struggle against the Japanese people and government who are keeping these practices under wraps, with selective interviews and the deliberate framing of Psihoyos’ journey serving to create a sense of unity among the audience which dehumanizes the Japanese people.

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Psihoyos doing the cool spy film thing

From the opening credits of the documentary, Psihoyos creates a sense of drama, implying that there are secrets to be discovered and inviting the audience to unveil those secrets alongside him. The opening credits are reminiscent of a heist film, with sequences shown as if they are viewed through spy equipment. The soundtrack similarly goes along with this attempt to create an atmosphere of intrigue. In his choice to frame the opening credits like so, Psihoyos draws the viewer into the “behind the scenes” of his documentary, allowing whoever is watching to feel included in the process of uncovering whatever secrets there are to be revealed in the proceeding film. Psihoyos implies from the beginning that in creating The Cove, he has performed some sort of heist of knowledge and justice—and the viewer, from the beginning, gets to feel as if they are part of that heist. Thus the documentary is set up in a way where the viewer feels included. Psihoyos creates a “we” around his mission in the documentary which is intended to be inclusive of the viewers.

As the documentary continues, one notable aspect is the lack of in-depth exploration into the perspective of the Japanese people, both in Taiji and outside of Taiji where the dolphin killings take place. This serves to reinforce a sense of “we”-ness for the viewers while creating a “them”-ness by positioning the Japanese people as a vague and often menacing “other”. In The Cove, Louis Psihoyos and Ric O’Barry encounter a number of Japanese fishermen local to Taiji who attempt to block them off from filming where the dolphin slaughter happens. The fishermen are only seen as obstructions, obstacles to a larger truth. There is no attempt seen in the film to make contact with them as human beings and to illuminate their personal perspective on the dolphin meat trade. Instead, Psihoyos only frames them as nameless enemies to the pursuit of justice.

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An unimpressive attempt to speak with Taiji locals

In addition, Psihoyos’ attempts to “interview” the families of the fishermen is lacking—rather than putting Psihoyos himself and the people he talks to on an equal footing, he only asks them in English leading questions about whether or not they know that the fishermen are poisoning people. There is no effort put into allowing these people to express themselves in their native language, and the footage and backdrop suggests that these questions were posed spontaneously. Through not allowing the local people of Taiji their own voice and not portraying their perspective on the issue at hand, Psihoyos successfully marginalizes them in the film as an unsympathetic “other”, increasing the viewer’s connection to the struggle of the dolphins and Ric O’Barry. The fishermen of Taiji and their families are barely shown as human, with their voices barely heard and their thoughts only haltingly expressed, and as thus, the viewer remains firmly on the side of Psihoyos.

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Some unenthused councilmen—hey, aren’t these the good guys?

Even the Japanese people who are supposed to be treated as sympathetic figures do not receive respectful treatment within the way Psihoyos frames the narrative. The two councilmen who are shown to be aware of the dolphin killing in Taiji and who oppose the dolphin meat being fed to schoolchildren seem to be morally aligned with Psihoyos’ view in the documentary, yet their segment in the film still lacks depth. Within the film, they are presented as passive, shrinking violets, in contrast to Psihoyos and O’Barry, who are men of action. They are also shot against the backdrop of a shrine gate, which positions them in a uniquely “Japanese” environment. Psihoyos deliberately frames the two councilmen as “Japanese” through the setting of the interview, again separating them from what is presumably familiar to the viewer and therefore failing to evoke sympathy for the men by emphasizing their foreignness. So although the Taiji city councilmen seem to be understanding of Psihoyos’ cause, they still fit in with the “other” of the “Japanese” that Psihoyos constructs in the rest of the film.

Throughout The Cove, Psihoyos deliberately draws the audience into the “we” that he constructs on the side of what he believes is justice, and just as deliberately leaves the Japanese people out of this group that includes the viewer. With the very limited selections of interviews and clips that he chooses to show of Japanese people speaking for themselves, Psihoyos isolates them from the viewer, making them unsympathetic and alien in order to push his own viewpoint.

History Repeating Itself

           The Cove is a documentary that analyzes and questions the dolphin hunting in Taiji, Japan. The primary speakers are Ric O’Barry, a former dolphin trainer, and Oceanic Preservation Society (OPS) activist/director of this film Louis Psihoyos. This film is produce to stop, educate, and convince the audience the serious problem called dolphin slaughter/hunting/capturing. The dolphins are driven into a cove that is enclosed with nets and lines, to keep the dolphins inside.  Fishing companies sells live show dolphins for to aquariums, museums and other sea/ocean park, and kill off the remaining dolphins to sell their meat. This documentary explains the health risks that are part of dolphin meat and how cruel it is not only the process of capturing these animals, but also the killing of them. In The Cove, dolphin meat represents not only the cruelty treated to these animals, but the serious health risk it is to humans that consume it.

Dolphin meat is extremely high in mercury content.

Dolphin meat contains 2000ppm of mercury compared to the 0.4 ppm recommended

During the film, the audience learns that dolphin meat is highly toxin, having extreme levels of mercury, higher than what is recommend by the health researchers and are a serious health risk to humans. The high levels of mercury found in dolphin meat can lead to something very similar to the Minamata disease that was caused by the mercury found in fish and shellfish. In one scene, Tetsuya Endo, researcher at Health Science University of Hokkaido, tested a piece of dolphin meat bought in a local grocery market in Taiji and discovered that dolphin contain 2000ppm (per part million) of mercury compare to the 0.4 ppm recommended. This amount of mercury could cause another epidemic like the Minanmata disease all over again. Many of the local fishermen deny or don’t want to know about this fact.

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Local Tokyo Citizen surprise by the fact that dolphin are being eaten

Many of the caught dolphins are not sold as live show dolphins, but are killed for their meat. There is no logical explanation to explain why people would want to sell dolphin meat given the health issues, yet fishermen argue it is because it is their tradition to hunt, kill, and sell dolphin meat. Well, in the film we see O’Barry asking many citizens in major Japanese cities, such as: Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hokkaido, yet no one even knew that there are people out there eating dolphin meat. In Japan, dolphin meat is considered as undesired or lower class meat, yet these fishermen in Taiji kill 25,000 dolphins every year. Apparently, these dolphin meats are sold off as whale meat, according to OPS members when they did a DNA test of meat they bought in the grocery market. These fishermen are selling meat that will make people become sick and still argue that it is a part of their ‘tradition’ when most of the population doesn’t even know that people even eat dolphins.

When many ask why dolphin meat is consumed, they were answered that it was Japanese culture/tradition, and that dolphins are consuming too much fish—that these ‘pest’ need to be taken care of. The film has proven that it is not dolphins that consume too much fish, but humans eating/consuming too much fish that it is damaging the oceanic eco-system leading to the result of less fish. Yet, the government and the IWC do not acknowledge the fact that the consumption of dolphin meat will lead to serve health problems, and uses excuses such as tradition or less fish to continue hunting these animals.

Fishermen catching dolphins

Fishermen catching dolphins

The capturing of dolphins is a cruel and inhumane as well as the killing of them. Fishermen uses loud noise, which cause panic and distress in dolphins given that they use sound as their primary sense, to basically trap these dolphins in an enclosed space. Then, once the live show dolphins are picked, they will kill off the remaining dolphins. In one scene, we can see a dolphin swimming to shore bleeding and basically running for its life until it eventually bled out. This method of capture and killing is inhumane to the animals, and could be considered as animal torture. Yet, these fishermen for their profits refuse to admit to these facts and continue to deny that any of this is happening or true.

The purpose of this film is to educate the public about these cruelties towards dolphins and the health risk associated with dolphin meat consumption due to the high levels of mercury it contains. The Cove promotes the stopping of the capturing of dolphins and brings up points that undeniably shocking to the world on a global scale. Yet, the refusal of both the Japanese government and fishermen are both very upsetting, this helps the audience understand just because we don’t hear about it does not mean it does not exists. That people need to stand up and say something to make a difference and help others learn about what is really going on in the world , just like Ric o’Barry, Louis Psihoyos and their crew, because that is how changes happen by people out there making a difference.