Category Archives: Documentary

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.


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.

The O’Barry Identity

The Cove, directed by Louis Psihoyos, is a documentary about the annual slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. By combining what could be two different movies – the history of dolphin meat in Japan and how it exists today versus the director’s activist group planning a daring mission to reveal what happens in modern day Taiji – and making the film just as dramatic as it is educational, Psihoyos shows a black and white world with clear cut good guys and bad guys. But for a film intended to disgust the audience and convince them to take part in ending dolphin killings, it works remarkably well.


1. Ric O’Barry recalls how his dolphin committed suicide in his arms.

One of the most memorable segments of the film is a sequence where Ric O’Barry recounts his experience in the dolphin training industry. He begins by talking about how famous the show he worked on, called Flipper, became and how it created the demand for dolphins at aquariums and birthed a new industry. However, his tale becomes more and more depressing as he talks about how many dolphins are caught and kept in captivity. Eventually O’Barry reveals that the conditions of captivity are what led the dolphin he trained on Flipper to stop breathing and commit suicide in his arms. The film cuts from footage of the dolphin smiling to a crying O’Barry as he tells the story. In the shot, shown above, the two things the audience sees most prominent are his tearful face and the painting behind him of a dolphin. This scene shows exactly what The Cove does so well: manipulate the audience to the side of the activists by including events, as opposed to excluding facts to paint an imperfect picture. The story of Kathy’s death is heartbreaking, and contributes to O’Barry and Psihoyos’ argument that dolphins are intelligent and establishes dolphins as separate from farm animals like chicken and cattle.

An important thing to note is how using Ric O’Barry’s story is similar to using the numerous victims and families of victims of Minamata disease in Tsuchimoto’s Minamta: The Victims and Their World. However, in Minamata the filmmakers chose to portray numerous victims of Minamata disease and their families. This created an image of similarity amongst the affected and how widespread and destructive the disease had become in the community. Psihoyos chose to focus on one man who was personally involved in the events of the film, personalizing the struggle of the filmmakers.

 cove 2

2. The film crew is tailed while driving through Taiji.

Another element that brings pathos to the forefront in allying the audience with the filmmakers is the thriller-like aspects of their time in Taiji. As soon as they start driving through the town, they are tailed by cars simply because Ric O’Barry is in the car with them. The director is even told that one of those following him and the crew is the local Chief of Police. By showing the town as a faceless antagonist similar to films like The Wicker Man or even They Live, where anybody in the town could be out to get the protagonist, it makes Taiji seem like an evil place that only exists in films or other stories. The nervousness of being in the camera lens, in the car while everyone stares, puts the audience in the filmmakers’ uncomfortable shoes and establishes that the audience and the filmmakers are enemies to the town of Taiji.

 cove 3

3. Ric O’Barry stands ground against the IWC during their meeting.

The climax of the film features Ric O’Barry crashing a meeting of the International Whaling Commission with a screen showing the footage of dolphin slaughter that the filmmakers took in the titular cove in Taiji, Japan. This scene is especially effective and memorable because as opposed the faceless entity of Taiji, there is a clear enemy in the IWC. The film shows several times the face of the Japan’s representative in the IWC and oftentimes cuts to him against stories of the ignorance and passivity of the IWC in preventing the killing and consumption of dolphin. This is The Cove’s version of the good guy facing the big bad in the climax of the film, with the protagonist ending the duel in triumph. Now, obviously this is more low-key than say, a fist fight on a rooftop, but it’s still made dramatic by the filmmakers through the composition of the scene. The camera follows O’Barry and we see him, the guy who saw his beloved dolphin commit suicide in his arms, standing there simply showing everyone what they have allowed to happen.

Save Dolphins, Save Taiji’s Future

The documentary, The Cove, was directed by Louie Psihoyos in 2009 received the best documentary award of the 82th Oskar Filmfest incontrovertibly because of the true story and gripping plot. The Cove, which technically, is not a documentary, but more looks like an advertising movie, because there are too many director’s personal emotions in this film, presents the slaughter of dolphins in a small town named Taiji in Japan. The film, while the saving actions of Rick O’Barry as the main point throughout the whole movie, uncovers dirty deals about dolphins in the cove step by step. Every September, the fishermen living in Taiji kill a mass of dolphins. Based on what the fishermen said in the film, the killing is not for money. “It’s about the pest control.” Thanks to the fishing effort has been decreasing own to the dolphins are eating too much fish, the government told the fishermen to kill the dolphins and protect the fishing for human beings.

People love the dolphin’s smile

People love the dolphin’s smile

In this scene, the dolphins are watching the children around and smiling, while the children are touching the dolphins and taking photos with them. In the aquarium, when the dolphins jump out of water, the audiences cheer and scream for the performers. When the audiences enjoy themselves in the dolphins’ show, ironically the applause is the dolphins’ tragedy. To be honest, this scene is familiar to me, because I used to be one of the audiences, sitting in the crowd, feeling the smile of the dolphins and enjoying the show. However, when the dolphins complete the prescriptive movements and get food as reward, do they really feel happy as we think? The documentary gives us the answer, is “NO”. Like what Rick says, “A dolphin’s smile is nature’s greatest deception.” If audiences see on dolphin acting, it means that thousands of them have been killed. Only the limited numbers of dolphins can survive while most of them get killed for not being chosen for performance in the aquarium by the trainers. The survival ones will be sent to the aquarium and get trained. The left majority will be killed in the beautiful cove by fishermen. The meat of dolphins will be sent to the markets.

Fisherman dives into the bloodstained water.

Fisherman dives into the bloodstained water.

The cove is beautiful and peaceful, but for the dolphins, it is the worst nightmare. The sea water that should be clean blue, suddenly becomes the bloody red. If the film was not made by a true story and frames, I could even believe what I was watching. How much blood could dye the clean blue into this grisly red?  When the fishermen dive into the bloodstained water, how does that feel? The principal reason that the fishermen killing the dolphins is not for making money, but, based on what they said, due to the pest control. They were told by the government that the fishing effort has been decreasing own to the dolphins are eating too much fish. Therefore dolphins are considered as pest.  Everyone knows the decreasing of fishing effort owing to the overfishing of human beings, which caused the chain reaction of ocean resource. It is not that the dolphins grab human being’s food, but the greed of human being affects the subsistence of other ocean creatures.

No matter how, the excuse that the fishermen in Taiji use to massacre the dolphins is unacceptable. The slaughter destroyed the balance of the marine ecological environment. Even worse, because dolphins are living in the polluted ocean, there are many kinds of heavy metal chemical elements stored in dolphin’s body, especially mercury. However, the government of Taiji provides the local schools with the luncheon meat made from the polluted dolphins, which means the government are poisoning the town.

Rick shows the dolphin’s tragedy to the pedestrians.

Rick shows the dolphin’s tragedy to the pedestrians.

In the final scene of the film, Rick is standing on the street of Japan and showing the dolphin’s tragedy to the pedestrians. Eventually, more and more people gather around him, and more and more people care about the dolphin’s fate. After all, the future of dolphins depends on the attitude of the youth generation. Meanwhile, the future of Taiji depends on the attitude how the government and fishermen want to deal with dolphins. Now, the slaughter of dolphins keeps going every year in September. When people decide to save the dolphins lives, actually they are saving the people who eat polluted dolphin’s meat. If the slaughter could not be controlled, the Minamata disaster might appear again.

Momotarō and Food: Unifiers of the Japanese

Although Momotarō originated as a simple folk hero in the early Edo period, he has transformed into a national symbol capable of creating strong bonds within the Japanese people. His portrayal has also changed with his evolution. The adult themes of the Edo period transformed to become more child-friendly before again morphing to a more militaristic attitude in war propaganda. However, the use of food in Momotarō stories has remained consistent: the establishing and strengthening of strong community bonds. Between media and through time, Momotarō is a national symbol and the use of food in his portrayals act as a way to cement community bonds.

In the original tale, Momotarō uses food to establish both camaraderie and loyalty among his vassals. The original story narrates how an old couple finds Momotarō in a large peach and raises him. “Peach Boy”, as Momotarō translates to, grows up and journeys to Oni Island to defeat the demons living there. On his voyage, he enlists the help of a dog, monkey, and pheasant using the millet dumplings his parents prepared for him. He returns from his expedition triumphant and laden with treasures. The food in the original version is instrumental in the story. The millet dumplings Momotarō gives to the animals wins him their loyalty. While winning their support, he also establishes dominance and leadership between him and his vassals. This is especially apparent when he “[places] himself between them [the dog and the monkey] and carrying in his hand and iron fan, according to the custom of all high military officials in those days […]” (28, Iwaya). Momotarō clearly establishes himself as a strong leader and the dominant figure of his vassals. He is seen as an assertive person to be looked up to and trusted. The comparison to a high military official furthers this idea s well as hints at Momotarō’s coming military might against the demons. His leadership is also apparent when he “pushed them [the dog and monkey] both apart […]” (26, Iwaya). He is responsible enough that he stops them from fighting and even has the foresight to recruit the monkey as another one of his vassals. The millet dumpling shared between the dog and monkey establishes camaraderie between the two. The food also binds the band together on their journey to Oni Island. Not only do they no longer argue, they fight alongside each other with loyalty and bravery. The millet dumplings convey the theme of camaraderie and loyalty on their journey.

In Mitsuyo Seo’s 1943 film Momotarō’s Sea Eagles, Momotarō and the millet dumplings are used to mobilize the Japanese people for the war effort. In the film, Momotarō leads a “Japanese” army of dogs, monkeys, pheasants, and rabbits against the evil demons of Oni Island, representing the American and British enemies in World War II. The film’s main purpose is to promote World War II and rally the Japanese people; in contrast, the original tale is aimed to teach and entertain children. However, the propaganda film gains power from using Momotarō as a symbol because people already identify with the original folk hero as a good, strong leader. This idea is furthered with the utter defeat of the Western “demons” and the fact that the “Japanese” army is completely unharmed. This idealized view of war only serves the film’s purpose as propaganda. Millet dumplings also rally the Japanese people together. Strong community bonds and intense loyalty are the Japanese’s strengths and the key to winning the war, and the millet dumplings represent this. In the film, the food does not simply establish these bonds, but actually makes the animals physically stronger.

The monkey's muscles become visibly larger after eating the millet dumplings.

The monkey’s muscles become visibly larger after eating the millet dumplings.

The millet dumplings, and symbolically the camaraderie between the Japanese, give strength to Momotarō’s army. The food in the films not only encourages camaraderie but also distinguishes the good Japanese and the demonized Westerners.

The beer makes the demons drunk and cowardly

The beer makes the demons drunk and cowardly

In contrast to the strength the millet dumplings give to the Japanese, food and drink make the Westerners lazy and cowardly. This distinction further unites the Japanese. The biased portrayal dehumanizes the enemies and makes their total defeat more righteous, again typical of a propaganda film. Food in Sea Eagles helps promote enlistment in the war and draws power from the national symbol of Momotarō.

Momotarō is not used only in literature and film, but also as a real world rallying point. In Tsuchimoto’s 1971 documentary, Minamata: The Victims and their World, the citizens of Minamata suffer from mercury poisoning caused by polluted waters. A neighboring factory owned by the Chisso Corporation had been pollution the water for thirty-four years. The film documents the victims’ fight for justice. One scene portrays the march of the victims to the annual Chisso Corporation shareholder meeting in Osaka. In one particular moment, a victim alluded to Momotarō, and the folk hero becomes a rallying point. In fact, the speaker for the victims referenced the corporation as “blue and red ogres”, a clear reference to Momotarō’s Oni Island.

The speaker references Momotarõ as a way to gain sympathy from the strangers in Osaka.

The speaker references Momotarõ as a way to gain sympathy from the strangers in Osaka.

Momotarō’s popularity as a defender of good and a strong leader made him an ideal symbol for the victims. His story is well known; likening the corporation to the infamous ogres serves to unite the strangers in solidarity and bring the issue closer to home. The long journey and gathering of supporters is also a parallel to Momotarō’s journey and gathering of vassals, again around food. However, the poisoned food is a weapon of the enemy rather than something to encourage camaraderie.  The reference to the familiar character of Momotarō as a defender of good also elicits sympathy for the victims, and the strangers as well as the audience join and support their cause. The ability of the victims to garner that much attention using Momotarō is a testament to the folk hero’s power. From page to screen to the real world, Momotarō retains his popularity and power.

Despite moving between media, or even because of it, Momotarō is a national symbol with a lot of influence, and he serves as a rallying point for multiple causes. Food also connects the various genres and becomes a unifier for the people involved, whether through camaraderie, or sadly, suffering. While the goal of each media was different, the three portrayals of Momotarō all shared the folk hero and food as the banners under which people came together. People tend to rally around strong leaders, and Momotarō is the ideal unifier for the Japanese people, even across time periods and media.

Social Enrichment Through Food

Evoking sharp, sensory emotions; promoting marvelous, cognitive associations; and communicating traditional, symbolic expressions, food elicits a profound quality throughout many cultures: unification of people. The Momotaro stories particularly embrace the idea of “uniting others” with food—mainly through positive associations of camaraderie. In comparison, Noriaki Tsuchimoto’s documentary highlights community strengthening through food’s symbolic power; instead, however, the characters join together through negative connotations of suffering. Food’s function as a unifier can be analyzed between both literary texts and visual films. Represented through Iwaya Sazanami’s Momotaro = The Story of Peach-Boy and Tsuchimoto’s Minamata: The Victims and Their World, food operates as a figurative symbol and a material object that unifies estranged communities.

Iwaya Sazanami manipulates his writing to indirectly relate a smaller unification with a large-scale unification. In his Momotaro story, he describes an old couple who appears distraught over lack of children. However, once the old woman finds “a huge peach, big enough to fill her arms” (10 Iwaya), a little boy pops out of the fruit to explain his purpose: He intends to provide joy to the couple after “seeing that they are both so sad” (16 Iwaya). Sazanami develops a small, but significant community by employing a peach as a figurative, food symbol—an old woman and an old man become united with a child of their own. Comparably, this community development epitomizes the wide-ranging scale of unification that occurs in contemporary times: how ratatouille encapsulates the French; how pasta envelops the Italians; how lumpia bonds the Filipinos; and how ramēn/sushi unites the Japanese. In this case, the peach revitalizes a couple’s marriage, establishing a novel connection. Food not only has a physical attribute to forming happiness, but it also has a metaphorical element to uniting hopeless souls.

The historical context of Momotaro sets him in the late 19th century, with the English translation coming in the pre-WWII era. He epitomizes the popular hero who remains entangled in Japanese folklore. His figure also appears in countless wartime films and cartoons that appeal to the Japanese citizens as propaganda. In these widespread media portrayals, Momotaro usually represents the Japanese government; the citizens signify the animals; and the United States characterizes the demonic figure. The food and treasure that Momotaro and his animals receive after defeating the demon reflect the lost glory of Japan’s empire. Food’s presence in these stories holds another symbolic meaning: Food represents the attachment between the Japanese government and its people—just like how a chemical bond connects two atoms. Nevertheless, the Momotaro stories utilize food to cultivate strong relationships and lasting communities.

Tokiyoshi Onoue's personal testimonial compares to the whole Minamata community's experience.

Tokiyoshi Onoue’s personal testimonial compares to the whole Minamata community’s experience.

In similar fashion, Tsuchimoto applies food to compare one man’s suffering with a whole community’s suffering. He uses Tokiyoshi Onoue’s testimonial to illuminate a population’s distressful unity. As the Minamata disease forms a resilient community through people’s suffering, the Momotaro stories arrange cohesive communities through people’s comradeship: the contrasting quality between Sazanami’s writing and Tsuchimoto’s media. In the film, Onoue reveals his pain and anguish that the poisoning fish produced. The food’s contamination forcefully disables any consumers—blinding vision, restricting sound, and damaging basic motor skills. Upon recognition of the disease, Onoue begins to lose a certain amount of respect and trust of food’s safety. This personal relationship symbolizes the overall relationship that Minamata residents have with their seafood. The local fishermen, the close families, the dying individuals all start to discount their association with food’s unifying demands. Food’s figurative role as a uniting symbol emerges through the depths of people’s suffering. Minamata’s community develops a strong connection through everyone’s discomfort and torture.

The historical framework of the Minamata disease places it during a post-WWII era—a close similarity with that of Momotaro’s propaganda setting. Minamata’s remote location also sets it apart from the Japanese mainstream culture. This sets the stage for Minamata to create its own society and community. Since the residents did not have plenty of outside interaction, they had to combine their efforts with one another. The poisoned food ultimately matures the population through a tormenting array of sorrow. Even though the citizens become hampered to produce everyday tasks, they still overcome such obstacles to unify. Nevertheless, food embodies the metaphorical epitome of industrializing a spirited community.

Now implemented as a material object through the Momotaro stories, Sazanami employs food as a physical unifier between characters. He uses millet dumplings to bond Momotaro and a dog: “he accepted the half-dumpling and having eaten it he went on with Peach-Boy” (25 Iwaya). He continues to use millet dumplings to connect Momotaro and a monkey: “I will give you half of one of the best millet dumplings in Japan, and you may follow me” (28 Iwaya). He finally unites another pairing between Momotaro and a bird: “I now charge you to accompany me in the same way as the dog and the money in my expedition” (31 Iwaya). Once again, this small community of a hero and his comrades exemplifies the larger picture—how a massive community between the Japanese government and its citizens ripens. Food’s function as a unifier travels beyond the scope of just forming a community; it reaches the extent of establishing companionships and relationships. Sazanami manipulates food to serve as his community development initiative. He implements food to directly institute a bonding association—since the monkey, dog, and bird openly accept the dumplings. This illuminates how food works to build communities through certain respects of camaraderie and materialism.

The comparison between “Momotaro and his companions” and “the Japanese government and its citizens” signifies Sazanami’s purpose to portray community progression. The millet dumplings operate as a food symbol in the story, and the food represents the Momotaro stories in reality. Since the dumplings form a community between the hero and his acquaintances, the Momotaro stories form a community between the government and its people. Together, both communities develop a passionate sense of unity and accord to battle worldly evils. In Momotaro’s case, they travel to defeat the ogres at Ogre Island; in Japan’s case, they journey to conquer the Unites States at Pearl Harbor. Food manages to characterize a potent unifier that continues to produce fervent societies.

Community outreach and development.

Community outreach and development.

Through another comparison, Tsuchimoto highlights how food can symbolize the basis of constructing a vehement community. He chronicles the Minamata residents as they band together to confront the death-providing Chisso Corporation—the instigator who polluted the Minamata waters with mercury compounds. Indirectly speaking, the diseased food connects the people of Minamata as a single neighborhood, fighting to voice their harrowing pain and traumatic anger. An example of this cohesive community can be described through the documentary’s dramatic climax: Tsuchimoto films the residents attending a Chisso biannual, shareholders meeting. They collectively demand that the company president accept full responsibility for Chisso’s offenses against the environment and humanity. Food resumes its constant duty to unify communities—with love in its intentions and conviction in its production.

The story of Minamata’s fight for justice not only suggests historical importance, but it also reveals the determined spirit that a group of people is willing to deliver. This community struggle holds the potential to inspire other communities who also suffer from the hands of an indifferent bureaucracy. Although each family and individual embrace their own personal account of sorrow, they all combine their efforts and tales to form a community of simple, conscientious people. Tsuchimoto’s filming tactics fully epitomize the meaning of how food brings people into unison.

While Tsuchimoto and Sazanami develop contrasting works of art, they both succinctly illustrate the same, basic message: Food not only functions as a figurative symbol to unify communities, but it also works as a material object to unite others. Whether a situation expounds anguish, happiness, friendship, or violence, people always find a way to become intertwined through food’s bitter taste; food’s sweet taste; food’s rare taste; or food’s repulsive taste. Food grasps that special power to unify communities under the best conditions, or the worst conditions. It remains as a symbol that refers to any aspect of a culture’s or individual’s history and identity.

That Penny Donated: Manifesto Genre in Minamata: Its Victims and Their Worlds

The manifesto genre is a genre that represents a form of official public declaration that asserts a set of principles or rights in which the declaring party believes to be innate and natural. Through the lens of this genre or prototype, Minamata: Its Victims and Their Worlds can be seen as a manifesto in the form of a film documentary. Specifically, the documentary’s formal techniques first establish its seriousness via portraits, interviews, and factual statements. Next, the notion of the collective-we is seen through protests, donations, and unions. Lastly, the final demand of justice and rights is manifested through political action.

Shot 1: Interview and Portrait of Victim Family

In this particular shot, we examine the formal elements to highlight the background of the documentary manifesto. This particular scene follows from a series of portraits of those deceased due to the Minamata disease. Prior to the portraits, full scenes of white words on black backgrounds state the history and impacts of the disease. Immediately, the audience receives a wealth of information regarding the dreadful epidemic. Next, to create a sense of attachment and emotion, portraits are used with names and ages of the victim labeled. Furthermore, as seen in the above scene, the actual interview, the items on the shrine, and the tea on the table all serve to create a mixture of pain, sorrow, respect, interaction, and warmth.

Shot 2: “A war Waged by we who hate War!”

With the formal elements above emphasizing the dreadful consequences of the disease, the collective victims are finally united on a foundation of rights, justice, and emotion. The cause for the declaration of the manifesto is now set, and the working fishermen class, along with their families, have come together to rise. As shot 2 indicates, the speaker refers to the collective-we to emphasize a sense of unison, creating a sense of belonging, sympathy, understanding, and strength. Such qualities are clearly representative of the manifesto genre. Furthermore, aside from the “we,” the speech also uses “you” and “they.” Such classification and segregation of people further fuels a sense of unity. The “you” addresses each individual personally, instilling strength and advocating for action and reflection, while the “they” addresses those responsible for the epidemic, creating accountability.

Shot 3: Formal Document Related to the Minamata Disease

Then, political action is finally taken. With a series of negotiations with relevant departments related to public health, law, and research, the cause of the Minamata Disease is finally discovered and proven. Shot 3 can be viewed as the climax in which the protestors finally come together with the greatest magnitude and strength, putting their demands right in the face of the directors of Chisso during the shareholders’ meeting. The victims’ standard costume, and especially the written document raised high up in the air in shot 3, all indicate their determination and rage.

With this determination and rage, the directors of Chisso are forced to compensate the families. However, most importantly, justice has been delivered not only for the deceased, but also for the remaining suffering families. Hence, from the establishment of a cause and foundation, to the gathering of the victims, and finally the ultimate uprising of the fishermen and their families, Minamata: Its Victims and Their Worlds is a documentary that exemplifies the manifesto genre. This uprising of the working lower class against the corporate elite, with support even from the little girl who has donated a penny, has firmly demonstrated the essence of the manifesto genre and the strength of the people.

Characterization of Momotaro: Makings of a powerful documentary and effective propaganda cartoon.

Classical folk lore representation of the image of Momotaro and his followers.

The classical folk lore hero, Momotaro, is employed as a tool by the directors of Minatmata and Momotaro’s Sea Eagle to help the greater Japanese public relate to the national anxieties taking place in each film. By employing the popular image, unfamiliar and traditionally uncomfortable situation are made familiar and with new perspective. The story of Momotaro is as common to the Japanese public as the fairytale of Snow White is to American youth. Momotaro is a brave, selfless and noble child sent from the heavens. He sacrifices his peaceful life with his parents in order to defeat the ogres terrifying Japan. Both directors Seo and Tsuchimoto call upon this hero imagery in their respective films.

In Momotaro Sea Eagle, director Mitsuyo Seo uses the imagery of Momotaro as a propaganda instrument. During the time of the filming, WWII was raging and the bombing of Pearl Harbor has just taken place. Mitsuyo Seo chooses to represents Momotaro as a brave and strong commander, allowing any Japanese the ability to relate to the military.

Momotaro in a Japanese navel outfit directing his follows to attack Demon Island.

In the image above, we see Momotaro in a modern Navel outfit with the Japanese national symbol worn across his head. He is directing his troops to carry out a bombing raid on Demon Island. Mitsuyo Seo employs this use of Momotaro to successfully relate viewers to the war and their own national duty; a situation that should be new and terrifying is replaced with common and familiar themes of Japanese folk lore. Momotaro is seen as a high power, one who demands respect and obedience. He has a duty to lead his subordinates into war and defeat the enemy for the greater good. Viewers of this film relate themselves to the dog, monkey, and pheasant and are overwhelmed with their own calling to take up arms and fight for the righteous Momotaro without questioning the reasons for the war.

Noriaki Tsuchimoto also calls upon the popular image of Momotaro in the film Minamata: The Victims and their World. The film centers on the townspeople of Minamata’s quest to shed national notoriety and receive compensation for the spreading of pollutants by the Chisso Corporation. The image of Momotaro is drawn upon less directly but still just as powerfully.

Protestors from Minamata addressing the public on their way to the Chisso shareholders meeting.

In the image above, we see the people of Minamata demonstrating in the streets of Tokyo wearing traditional pilgrim clothing. What is truly powerful are the words this woman speaks, “We have arrived in the land where the blue and red ogres dwell.” This makes direct reference to Momotaro’s journey to Ogre Island. Tsuchimoto identifies the entire town of Minamata as the hero with a duty to travel to a distant land representing their cause. Thus the protesters are viewed within the image of Momotaro, and this allows the common viewer to identify with their cause to defeat evil just like Momotaro.

In each film, a pressing national threat has emerged that is strange and unfamiliar to the public. The image of Momotaro is employed by both directors in order for the common viewer to understand and sympathize with the statements being made. In effect, viewers have no choice but to assume the nobleness of the characters displayed as Momotaro and the evilness of the enemy, thus making for a powerful documentary and effective propaganda cartoon.


The Danger of Selling Culture Through Food

Genre in My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki unfolds into both a personal diary narrative and third-personal documentary.  It follows Japanese-American Jane Takagi-Little as she helps create a television show called “My American Wife” emphasizing meat and American values to the Japanese public.  The personal narrative aspect of the book is told by Jane as she recounts her personal experiences in working on the meat promoting show.  The documentary portion follows the show itself and its effects on a Japanese housewife named Akiko.

An intimate relationship is forged between the reader and Jane through her first-person reflections on the job.  Throughout the book, her self-dialogues are often blunt and harsh.  Jane does not bother with any sort manners in these passages; she is direct, forthright, and genuinely frank.  Jane’s assertive mindset may actually be reminiscent of Sei Shonagon’s boldness in her personal writings, “I am the sort of person who approves of what others abhor and detests the things they like” (1).   Her straightforward attitude not only allows the reader a closer connection to her part of the story.  It, more importantly, imparts the reader with a deeper insight into the fundamentally corrupt manipulation techniques that the show uses to sell a supposedly perfect culture to the Japanese people. Together with the documentary elements of the book, Jane’s personal narrative highlights the increasingly apparent fabrications on the show while underlining its exploitation of both the American families and the Japanese public.

Akiko’s experience with the show is described in the documentary portion of the book.  Her husband, a worker for the company sponsoring the show, forces her to watch the show and adopt American habits, “that’s when her meat duties started.  Every Saturday morning, she would be required to watch My American Wife and then fill out a questionnaire he had designed, rating the program from one to ten in categories such as General Interest, Educational Value, Authenticity, Wholesomeness, Availability of Ingredient, and Deliciousness of Meat” (21).  Her every attitude and reaction are documented and revealed to the reader during her involvement.  Thus, the reader is able to see the direct effects of Jane’s actions in creating show on the Japanese public, thereby seeing what goes into the creative side and the resulting impact. Consequently, the documentary component is critical to the reader’s understanding of Ozeki’s aim of detailing culture exploitation.  Even Akiko’s husband has bought into the artificial, American culture and forces her to eat meat in the hopes that her health and fertility would increase.

The reader is able to observe the destructive harm of the show’s attempt to sell culture through the book’s dual genres of personal narrative and documentary.  Ozeki’s choice to include both methods of writing allows her to portray the damaging effect of valuing and imposing a culture over another.  One may infer that she does not believe any way of life to be inherently superior to another.

The Cove: Manipulation of Film as a Means of Persuasion

“The Cove”, a 2009 documentary directed by American photographer Louie Psihoyos, features the Japanese dolphin hunt in Taiji in an attempt to educate its audience about such happenings and the detrimental effects they bring upon the environment as well as humans. In 2010, it won numerous outstanding documentary awards, such as the Sundance Film Festival as well as an Academy Award.

What I found most notable about “The Cove” in terms of its identity as a documentary was the careful use of music and scene cut choices to really reach into the pathos of its viewers–aside from being informational, many scenes lacked dialogue, simply showing gruesome and inhumane moments of mass dolphin slaughter.

Another technique used by the filmmakers was beginning the documentary by demonstrating the friendliness, intelligence, and kindness of dolphins in order to create a kind of emotional connection with viewers before they witness their murders. In contrast, the Japanese dolphin hunters are portrayed as rude, heartless, and threatening; they are overgeneralized as a mass of money-hungry fishermen with no consideration or hesitance in slaughtering hundreds of dolphins at once or in separating baby dolphins as their parents are taken away and killed before their very eyes. In this sense, at times viewers may forget the documentary nature of the film as emotional drama is very much integrated into the storytelling, rather than fast hard facts. The documentary also begins with famed dolphin trainer turned dolphin rights activist Ric O’Barry recounting his experience with the suicide of one of the dolphins who played the role of Flipper, the namesake of a 1964 hit television series. O’Barry’s account of the incident is overtly dramatic, true as it may be, inciting a combination of sympathy and horror within its audience.

Ric O'Barry with Kathy, the dolphin who played Flipper who became depressed to the point of suicide.

The filmmakers are careful, however, not to put all of the blame on Japan as a whole. The documentary also presents the Japanese public’s lack of knowledge of this underground operation, while also highlighting the Japanese government officials’ harsh attempts to hide the truth; oftentimes it was easy to view the officials and fishermen as uncivilized, stupid, and barbaric. For example, the filmmakers are given a map by the government, with specific sections circled and marked with an “X”, as they are told not to go to those places–naturally, they keep this paper as both evidence against the officials as well as their stupidity in simply handing them a map of places they need to go for their investigation.

The concept of dolphin meat as food is not so emphasized in “The Cove” as much as dolphins’ commercial use as show animals in amusement parks. Yet this makes the explanation that live dolphins are worth thousands more dolphins than dead ones all the more horrific; the dolphins appear to be viewed by the fishermen as a commodity, rather than a living, sentient being.

As films in the documentary genre go, I believe “The Cove”
was successful in convincing viewers of which “side” to take, yet also extremely biased. Controversy over inaccuracies did arise after its screening, but above all else I felt that the inaccuracy lay in not lies, but in hidden truths and a refusal to mention certain facts that may sway audience opinions.