Category Archives: The Factory Ship

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.

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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.

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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.


An Alliance Through Food

After setting sail on the Hakkō Maru, a crab-canning ship’s crew becomes determined to stand up to their harsh supervisor because they cannot tolerate their atrocious conditions any longer. A story of dehumanization unfolds in Kobayashi Takiji’s The Factory Ship as a crew of Japanese proletariat men slowly deteriorate into “objects” due to poor treatment and abuse.  Takiji skillfully uses food to emphasize how the crew members are becoming less like humans and more like objects to their superiors. Food becomes a driving force that eventually thrusts the men into a rebellion against unfair conditions and treatment.

As the ship journeys onward, the fishermen even become the food themselves at some points when the author uses metaphors to depict the environments. The men are juxtaposed with “maggots” in a “vast cesspool.” The significance of this comparison is that the crew members are reduced to beings less than humans and that maggots are usually associated with rotten food. This association might even imply that the vessel as a whole is the rotten meat and the people aboard are the scum and filth that inhabit it. We can even imagine the fisherman living in their own waste.

In addition, Takiji also draws another comparison with the workers’ hands being “raw and red as crab claws” (11). This metaphor gives us a closer understanding of the mens’ transformation from humans into “things.” The raw and red that is used to describe the fishermans’ hands hints at the painful and grueling work the men deal with. The crab claws also tie in to their job of canning shellfish on the ship; therefore, the comparison probably also suggests the way the workers were seen by their supervisors: nothing more than objects for self-profit.

Likewise, another metaphor emphasizing how the supervisor’s poor treatment causes the crew to lose human qualities is the men having “no more feeling in them than giant turnips” (13). The men become so overworked that they reduced to unfeeling lumps of flesh with dangling arms and legs. It’s easy to imagine the men as turnips and their limbs as the shriveled roots of the turnips. The fishermen are more and more like emotionless objects as they stay onboard the factory ship. Several of these associations with food often cause a numbing of the human characteristics in the ship’s crew.

Although food is not necessarily the central theme in the story, it is an extremely powerful influence in the eventual rebellion of the crew against their leaders. In fact, because the men are “obsessed with food,” the lack of any decent food inevitably leads to conflict. The author uses food as metaphor for the crew to stress the impact that food actually has on them. The quality of the food they are given reflects how human they are. Thus, objectification of the proletarians is connected to the food they eat. Because of contrast in living quality, the foundation for revolt is set. Even though the crew is “made up of such a motley, diverse bunch” (9), they are able to unite because of food.

Literary Analysis of “The Factory Ship”

A factory ship is a floating plant that processes crabs and assembles several small boats for hunting crabs. The Factory Ship was written by Kobayshi Takiji and published in 1929. It describes the plight of unemployed laborers, impoverished farmers, and poverty-stricken students who are hired by the factory ship and engaged in the burdensome crab-hunting job for a long period. The crew becomes reduced to objects when the conditions worsen and food is used to stress their transformation. Eventually, they can no longer bear the abuse from the superintendent, Asakawa, so they bind together and rebel against the leaders of the ship.

In the story, the principal way food is used to dramatize the horrible working conditions is through the crew’s complaints about the food and how their bodies are negatively impacted by of the lack of food. Even though food may not be the focus of the story, it is one of the driving factors of the fiction and the exploding fuse that triggers the conflict between the grumpy superintendent and laborers. Owing to the extremely unfair distribution of food, the tension between superintendent and laborers becomes worse and worse, and finally the strike breaks out.

At the beginning of fiction, the superintendent tries every way to take advantage of the laborers and pushes them to work harder and harder. When the confliction between the different classes intensifies, the commuter that is sent from the company brings them good food. “Rice wine, distilled liquor, dried cuttlefish, boiled vegetables, cigarettes, and caramels (p. 51)” After loading the crab cans, laborers are allowed to celebrate the harvest of crabs. However, from what I can see, the celebration to encourage laborers works on the opposite effect. Because the better food causes discontent compared with what laborers used to have to eat before. “ The fishermen had their usual meal of rice so crumbly that they couldn’t pick up a satisfying mouthful on their chopsticks and salty bean soup with thin shavings of something or other is floating on top of it (p. 55).” When laborers have no idea how the Bourgeoisie’s life is, definitely they will not realize that there is a huge contrast between their lives.  After tasting better food and noticing that the distribution of food looks ridiculous, laborers will disdain how they are treated before. Protest and indignation will be caused, and also, the emotion of revolting will expand quickly.

At the very last, the indignation reaches the peak and the strike goes on. Though the first try does not work out, the second one is already on the way. In term of the whole fiction, food is not the main focus but a significant part. It drives the story on and makes laborers realize how unfair the social distribution is. Perhaps Kobayashi tried to criticize society using this point, that what the proletarian pursues is fair.

The Factory Ship: “Thingification” of the Crew

The Factory Ship: “Thingification” of the Crew

In The Factory Ship, Kobayashi Takiji tells the story of the crew’s rebellion against the superintendent’s inhumane treatment. The superintendent, Asakawa takes advantage of the crew as if they are short-living and consumable food, dehumanizing them. Kobayashi’s intention of writing The Factory Ship is to provide an unpleasant reading experience to remind the potential readers—the Japanese proletarians—that they should defend themselves against the capitalists’ oppression.

Kobayashi describes inhumane treatment towards the crew with a metaphor of octopuses; he demonstrates the “thingification” of the crew into octopuses as dehumanization. “In Hokkaido, workers [are] referred to as ‘octopuses’ since, to keep itself alive, the octopus will eat its own tentacles, if it must” (Kobayashi, 39). The octopus is a popular Japanese dish. The behavior of the octopus harming itself for survival indicates that the crew work hard and consume themselves so much to make a living that they become ill and injured. “All of them had crossed the Tsugaru Strait into snowbound Hokkaido intending to make some money and then return to their birthplaces” (41). Nevertheless, the crew not only earn less than possible, but also lose their healthiness, the most basic condition to survive. Since Asakawa takes away their money and healthiness that belong to the crew, they should fight back and regain them.

The author also incorporates examples, such as red hot pokers, to evoke the readers’ sympathy for the crew and anger towards Asakawa. “The superintendent’s next step [is] to post a notice about a prize of quite another kind—a branding—for the least productive member on the ship. He [promises] to take a red hot poker and apply it to the man’s body” (34). The red hot pokers implies the flatirons that people cook with and supposedly enjoy during barbecue. Kobayashi makes the cooking experience unpleasant with a “thingification” into barbecue food, bringing in readers’ hatred toward Asakawa. Consequently, Kobayashi associates Asakawa, who punishes the least productive members by ironing them, with the capitalists, who exploit proletarians to obtain more money in their own pockets. Kobayashi wants to invoke readers’ defiance towards Asakawa, the capitalism, and the exploiting system in reality.

Instead of money and profits, it is the crew members that build up the business on the ship; likewise, “a government that denies its own power base by ignoring or repressing the criticism and challenges of this, its most fundamental constituency, risks delegitimation on its own terms” (Lyon, 23). When Asakawa should show humaneness to the crew so that he could manage the business well, he consumes the crew to earn profits, again “thingifying” the crew. He says, “[you] think that by showing humaneness…we can win in a showdown between our country and theirs” (Kobayashi, 17)? The sarcastic tone in the question shows Asakawa’s contempt over humaneness; it is his disrespect towards his crew that foreshadows his failure in running the ship and the business. On the other hand, Kobayashi condemns Asakawa’s wrong manner in running the ship and similar ideologies of running business that occur to many capitalists.

Kobayashi creates a cruel character, Asakawa, who chooses profit over his crew members whom he dehumanizes as if they are food, to magnify readers’ disgust towards Asakawa. Readers can find The Factory Ship profound considering social condition in Japan at the moment, when economy fell into depression and capitalists made money out of unemployed students and workers. Kobayashi also called the attention of people in 2008 when such crisis reappeared, strengthening their will to rise up against the exploiters like Asakawa.

Work of Citation

1. Kobayashi, Takiji. The Factory Ship. Print

2. Lyon, Janet. Manifestoes and Public Spheres-Probing Modernity. 23. Print.

Corporate Food

The Factory Ship depicts the plight of the Japanese proletariat, through the example of mistreated sailors, fishermen, crewmen, and factory boys on a crab cannery factory ship. The workingmen are constantly mistreated and overworked by their superiors, especially the superintendent and are treated no better than objects. This objectification or “thingification” of the crewmembers onboard the ship is represented by both the food that they consume and through the extended metaphor of the workers as food themselves.

Those on board the factory ship are divided distinctly into two groups: the lazy and mean managerial figures (like the superintendent) and the workers who are abused and overburdened. While the lazy upper class is given good food, the lower classes are basically starved: “Like prisoners, they were obsessed with food” (14). Even when they are given meals, the sailors still do not receive the same luxuries afforded to their superiors.  On one particular occasion, “the fishermen had their usual meal of rice so crumbly that they couldn’t pick up a satisfying mouthful on their chopsticks and salty bean soup with shavings of something or other floating on top of it”, while “the cooks took all kinds of foreign-style food to [the superiors]” (55). Therefore, in The Factory Ship, food serves as a representation of unfair social difference. The crew does not receive the meals that they have earned while the seemingly worthless officers dine on unmerited cuisine. Therefore the crew is not treated as human, but as things with one purpose: to work.

The proletariat crewmembers are also objectified as food throughout the text. They are stuffed into their quarters like rotting food in a storeroom. The storeroom where “several dozen pickle barrels were kept, and the pickles feces-like stench mingled with the other foul odors” is juxtaposed with their quarters, which were “dark and gloomy, and the fishermen were sprawled about like pigs in a pigsty. A foul nauseating smell pervaded the room” (4-5). The conditions in which the men live are almost identical to the conditions of the pickles: foul smelling and cramped. This exemplifies the comparison of the deteriorating men as rotting food. As conditions for the men worsen, the comparisons become darker. They work until “their hands [are] raw and red as crab claws” (11) and the superintendent continues to treat them inhumanely, as if they are merely food; for example, when checking the bunks: “Roughly, as if inspecting pumpkins, he twisted the heads of the sleeping factory hands towards him” (15). These metaphors imply that the men are not considered human beings by the officers and the corporation that employs them, but are only as useful as food is to a person. They serve their purpose and then are consumed or thrown away when no longer useful. The superintendent checks the bunks like one would check a storeroom for inventory, rudely and mechanically. The workers are not important as human beings to the company, but instead, they are fuel or food for the corporate entity. This sad truth is most explicitly exemplified in the idea that, “In Hokkaido, workers were referred to as ‘octopuses’ since, to keep itself alive, the octopus will eat its own tentacles, if it must” (39). Therefore, the text implies that workers must unify and revolt because otherwise they will be objectified as things only useful for providing fuel for the company, then discarded when rotten or sucked dry of all nutrition or worth, like some kind of corporate food.