In My Years of Meat by Ruth Ozeki, segmented episodes where Jane Takagi penetrates into the lives of various “american wives” function together to construct one coherently distressful message of the mass producing, profit oriented, mask wearing image of capitalist America. Between these bursts of plot, the one underlying theme of consumption, packaging, and mass distribution in the name of prosperity is represented by a single entity – Wal-Mart; its ugly identity remains static and transcends through each episode of the close inspections. Wal-Mart is shown to be the perfect representation of a falsified face of American culture, both in its shimmering image and its hidden despicable flaws, and in how it corrupts homeland America, as well as deceive Japan.

In America, Wal-Mart is like a disease-filled, brainwashing corporate machine. People are described as zombie like and “spent all their days off at Wal-Mart” (Location 540). Towns are sterilized and equalized into copies of each other, as if Wal-Mart’s giant gloved right hand stamps on the mark of advancement while its rotten black left hand crushes and brushes away the traditional Main street Mom n’ Pop shops. Wal-Mart has the ability to wipe clean any character, there is no race, sexuality, or disability in its eyes, and with the same welcoming embrace it accepts all and contaminates all; it is there that Susie buys her Pepsi, Gracie buys the toys, and Suzuki finds his porn. Ruth also describes the twisted values of the corporation in the case of the Bukowsky family, where “Wal-Mart did the right thing and paid a handsome settlement” (Location 2122). To the cold faced manager who refuses to admit liability, amendments for his mistake did not involve any remorse or humanly emotions. Instead of fixing their wrongs from the root of the problem, Wal-Mart’s attitude of corrective action is simply monetary repayment.

Yet such a flawed creature is glorified in Japan as the “awesome, capitalist equivalent of the wide open spaces and endless horizons of the American geographical frontier.”(Location 559). In reality Wal-Mart is more like a pretty curtain drop in front of a vulgar mess of disturbing meat production and processing; it serves as a filter between the ugly truth, and the dressed up version presented to the masses. However to Ueno, the image casted onto the curtain is precisely what he wishes to broadcast to the people of Japan, both as a means to satisfy their hunger for western understanding, and for his own selfish incentive of promoting beef. Since the Japanese crew’s very initial contact with Jane, “Waru-Maato wa doko?”(Location 538) already sounds like a desperate cry in the pursuit of a falsely constructed wholesomeness.

In My Years of Meat, Wal-Mart is singled out as a symbolism for the foulness within American culture. On one hand it corrodes individualism within the U.S. and uses mass production as a means of creating the frenzy that lies in the source of unethical meat production. On the other hand to the viewers in Japan, only a craftily manipulated image of western power is put forth.  By planting this central argument within the familiar image of Wal-Mart, Ruth urges us to see beyond what is fed to us, and find courage to peer behind the curtain and see the unpleasant truth.


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:


“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:


“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 Journey of Jane and Akiko in My Year of Meats

My Year of Meats is a novel that is about a Japanese-American woman, Jane Takagi-Little, who is a documentary filmmaker. She gets a job offer at two in the morning to produce a Japanese cooking show called My American Wife, sponsored by BEEF-EX, a national lobby organization that represents all kind of meats. In the documentary show, My American Wife, Jane makes a pitch to document that meat is the protagonist of the show and film housewives who can cook with meat. To proceed with the show, Jane and the production crew go on a journey to find the perfect and good-looking American housewives that have recipes, containing meat. Through her journey in the novel, Jane learns a lot about meat. She also finds about her true self, instead of doing what others want her to do.

As Jane travels for the documentary show, she encounters a housewife, Suzie Flowers. In the prologue of My Year of Meats, Jane translates for Mr. Oda, the director of the documentary show, to Suzie on how to act. During the filming, Jane films Suzie making Coca Cola Roast for her family and her everyday lifestyle as a housewife. However, during one of the filming, her husband, Fred Flowers, confesses to Suzie that he is having an affair, shocking everybody on the set. Despite the shocking news, Mr. Oda tells Jane that they will edit and end it with the scene where Fred and Suzie were celebrating on Valentine’s Day. When Jane hears about making the ending as if Suzie and Fred were living happily ever after, she feels that there is no truth within the documentary, which the documentary show ends up lying to the audience. Mr. Oda’s idea of editing to make a happy ending illustrates the idea of participatory documentary filmmaking, which shows the use of editing to create a story that is not true.

Meanwhile, Akiko Ueno is a Japanese housewife that cooks with meat.  She watches My American Wife, and follows the same recipes on the show, like Suzie’s Coca Cola Roast. Her husband, Joichi Ueno, works as the Tokyo PR representative for BEEF-EX. Because of her husband, Akiko is forced to watch the show and fill out questionnaires, in regards to the format of the show and how the meat is presented well. When Akiko and Joichi finish dinner, Akiko throws up in the bathroom, without Joichi knowing. As Akiko watches Jane’s documentary show, My American Wife, she not only learns about meat recipes but there is also a slow shift to her life.

            During Jane’s travel, she is truly inspired by Sei Shonagen’s “The Pillow Book,” as she refers to the book and how Shonagen influences her. She also learns more about meat and where it originated. However, throughout her entire journey, Jane mentions about her standing in being Japanese American and being able to embrace her identity, despite all the racial discriminations she receives from other people. My Year of Meats shifts around between the two women, Akiko and Jane, and how throughout their journey in watching and filming, My American Wife, it changes their perspectives towards life. 

Chinese Cultural forms in “The Gourmet Club”

           The Gourmet Club by Junichiro Tanizaki is a story about a specific club called “the gourmet club.” In this club, a group of food-driven individuals get together at a mansion owned by a Count, and explore delicious food from other countries they have never had before. There are some Chinese cultural forms appear in this story. By introducing those Chinese forms, Junichiro Tanizaki wants to emphasis the theme of exoticism, and at the same time, creates an aesthetic atmosphere of this story.

            The first one appears when the Count cut through a narrow lane and found a Chinese restaurant. “Just then, the sound of a Chinese violin being played somewhere far off came drifting to his (The Count) ears –a sound with overtones and yearning in the night’s darkness.”(107-108) In this scene, Junichiro Tanizaki fully describes the characteristic of the sound of Chinese violin and this description gives readers a visual and audio feeling of what violin is. In China, the traditional Chinese violin is often used to make music that is for specific kind of occasions. The sound of Chinese violin always sounds mellow and expressive and it sometimes make audiences feel sad. In Tanizaki’s description, the sound that gets the Count’s attention also gets readers’ attention.

            The second one appears when the Count saw the sign of that Chinese restaurant and he recognizes that it is a Chechiang restaurant, which serves food from Chechiang province. “He recalled it as a mystic realm of science beauty on the banks of the Westlake, famed in the poetry of Po Lo-t’ien and Su Tung-p’o. And also the best place for Sungari sea bass and for pork belly cooked in soy a la Tung-p’o.”(112) In this scene, Tanizaki inserts some knowledge of Chinese geography. In China, Chechiang province is famous for its delicious Chinese food and due to its advantage of location; Chechiang province is also famous for its seafood. By describing Chechiang province, Tanizaki wants to show that the Count is really into Chinese culture and Chinese food therefore when he sees the name of the restaurant; he recognizes that this restaurant would probably have really good Chinese food.

            The third one Chinese form appears when the Count enters the Chinese restaurant and he sees “Others were sipping tea from cups made in Ching-te-chen.”(117) This description shows another characteristic of Chinese culture. In China, the traditional teacups made in Ching-te-chen are considered as high quality teacups and they are often used in good Chinese restaurants. Junichiro Tanizaki uses this detailed information about China because he wants to emphasize that the restaurant that the Count enters in is a good restaurant. Therefore, that restaurant might serve some really decent Chinese food. This Chinese form here plays an important role because it shows that the Count is very knowledgeable about exoticism of food.

            In conclusion, in The Gourmet Club, in order to fully describe the Count’s experience in exoticism food, Junichiro Tanizaki processes some elements of China. By using those elements, the entire story becomes more expressive and attractive.

Meat And Westernization in My Year of Meats (Extra Credits)


          As mentioned at the beginning of the quarter, meat-eating was being promoted as one of the measures to develop Japan as a modernized nation during the Meiji Period. Yet, the relationship between eating meat and modernization or westernization did not only exist in the past, but also in the present days. My Year of Meats is a novel about the experience of Jane Takagi Little as the producer of “My American Wife ”, a TV cooking show which promotes American meat in Japan and this story points out how meat is related to the western cultures and “being modern”.


          Looking at the story of Akiko, one of the viewers of “My American Wife”, eating meat is one of the ways for her family to adapt a “modern” lifestyle. Akiko’s husband, Joichi requires her to learn to cook meat and calls his “modern name”, John (p.21). These changes in their lifestyles, no matter the habit of eating meat or the use of new name, are all closely related to western cultures. Western cultures have the habit of consuming meat for a long time, but not in the Japanese culture until the Meiji Period. Besides that, the new “modern” name that Joichi uses is also a western first name. These show Joichi’s admiration towards the western cultures and his desire of living in a western and modern way. In order to live in a “modern” way, the consumption of meat is essential for Joichi.


          Moreover, My Year of Meats points out the stereotypes that Japanese have on meat and western cultures. In the memo given to Jane for creating “My American Wife”, meat and especially beef is considered as a necessary element to represent the American culture (p.9-10). This shows that in Japanese’s mind, eating meat is an important part of the western cultures. Therefore, this stereotype helps explaining why Joichi consider eating meat as a way to show he is “modern”. 


          Apart from the relationship of meat-eating and being modern, My Year of Meats also explains how meat relates to a desirable life style. As stated in the researches done by the staff of “My American Wife”, Japanese wives do not receive much concern from their husbands (p.12) and they believe that American husbands are generous and docile (p.13). Due to these images of American husband in Japanese wives’ minds, the production team of “My American Wife” tries to relate meat-cooking with the image of an ideal partner (p.13). This shows that meat is not only a symbol of “being modern”, but more importantly, it also represents the desirable lifestyle.


          All in all, from My Year of Meats, a novel published in the late the 20th century, readers can see that the belief that meat-eating is closely related to “being modern” or a desirable lifestyle is still affecting the Japanese society.



Ozeki, Ruth. (1998). My Year of Meats. New York: Viking.


Meat and Power

Ruth Ozeki’s “My Years of Meat” is set in a historical context before the rapid westernization, which is the time period when rice, fish and vegetables are still the main dining ingredients of a typical Japanese household. Through the portrayal of the public’s and individual’s reaction to the introduction of Western lifestyle, Ruth Ozeki explores the power relation between nation and genders, in which consumption of meat serves as the vehicle of dramatizing such power difference.

First, the consumption of meat becomes the emblem of Japanese people’s ideal of the West, which is satirized through the comical depiction of BEEF-EX’s corrupt advertising method that manipulates the public’s perception towards their beef products, “or selling off the vast illusion of America to a cramped population on that small string of Pacific islands”. The company attempts to attribute the “contemporary wholesome values” to meat by creating a warm image of an American family in order to demonstrate how the nourishment of meat contributes to the health and happiness of a family. The author criticizes the company’s unethical manipulation of such cultural perception and their inauthentic presentation of American family by satirizing the director’s fastidious manner and the artificiality of “American wife”. For example, during the cooking scene, in order to make the process more “interesting” the director decided to take different shots of the same step repeatedly. Consequently, the process becomes rather comical as “they had to go out to the grocery store and buy a dozen economy-size bottles of Pepsi” and “Suzie had to wash off the raw meat in the sink and pat it dry with paper towels and make it look new again”. Also, even Suzie becomes aware of her role as a “social actor” and starts responding to the needs of media by arranging the furniture and telling her kids to “act like they were enjoying their meat”. Because of her “acting”, the relationship between Fred and Suzie deteriorates as the show proceeds. Thus, the author makes fun of the Japanese media’s idealization and stereotyping of a Western lifestyle that symbolizes Japan’s appropriation of Western power, while commenting on the negative influence of such stereotypical perception of Western culture on an American household.

Furthermore, the habit of meat consumption is deployed as male’s enforcement of power in a Japanese household. Akiko’s value and position in her family are determined by her fertility and Jouichi’s affection for her. She is always bothered by her physical weakness and infertility, which contributes to her sense of insecurity as she always worries about Jouichi’s feeling. As Jouichi becomes obsessed with Western culture and starts to introduce the consumption of meat to Akiko, her position and power decline even more because the gap between her traditional trait and her husband’s ideal of white female sexuality broadens. Jouichi admires the “hybrid vigor” in Jane and loves “big-breasted American woman”, which stands for the quality of health and fertility in Western beauty that opposes the physical characteristics of Akiko. Jouichi’s enforcement of his power even elevates to the level of mental and sexual abuse as Akiko suffers from eating beef and having sex with him with a more “abrasive” condom. As Jouichi adopts the habit of meat consumption and becomes more sexually active, Akiko loses her power and dignity due to her failure to adapt to the Western lifestyle and the image of white female sexuality.

In conclusion, “My Years of Meat” portrays Japan’s idealistic and stereotypical conception of Western culture as a product of the corrupt marketing device of meat industry, which reflects the negative influence of Japan’s appropriation of Western power. Moreover, the introduction of meat consumption increases the sexual desire of man and causes them to idealize woman in a stereotypical image of a white female, further increasing the power difference between male and female in both Western and Japanese households.

Taiji: Dolphin’s Sanctuary or Dolphin’s Doom?

In Louis Psihoyos’ 2009 Academy Award Winning documentary film, The Cove, audiences around the world are exposed to the dolphin slaughter occurring within Taiji, Japan. Psihoyos introduces us to Ric O’Barry, an ex-dolphin trainer and activist, who is trying to do whatever he can to undo what he created. The show “Flipper” was the origin of Ric O’ Barry’s worldwide fan. However, it also started a wide spread of dolphin captures, and keeping them in captivity such as Sea World, and other dolphin parks. In the town that seems to adore dolphins, Taiji, the dolphins that are caught, and not wanted by the trainers are slaughtered. The dolphin meat is then sold around Japan in grocery stores where they are labeled as high quality whale meat to deceive the public, and placed into the children’s school lunches. Psihoyos’ documentary film provides the audience with the horrifying truth by using military grade cameras to capture footage that has not been seen by the public before. Louis Psihoyos and Ric O’ Barry’s team were able to expose the fishermen’s secret, and the wrongdoings that have occurred in the town that was also known to idolize dolphins.


Taiji is a town in Japan full of whale and dolphin statues, monuments, parks, and even a whale museum. The people of Taiji are unaware of what really goes on. It is ironic to think that in a place where the people idolize these beautiful creatures, is where the horrific captures occur. The fishermen of Taiji keep the area where dolphins are captured blocked off by fences that are incapable of climbing and signs that keep people out. The Taiji police, the fisherman, and other affiliates are very concerned with keeping the cove a secret from the public eye. They know that if the people saw what happened, their town would be doomed. Psihoyos does not hesitate when trying to uncover what really goes on within the cove, and does not care for the concerns of the Taiji police or the Japanese government. He interviews the Japanese people, and they are in shock when they hear about the truth. They stated that they were unaware that the slaughter was going on. Taiji may have seem perfectly calm, and whale loving before the documentary, but in reality it was both dolphins’ and whales’ worst nightmares.


Dolphins always appear to be happy because their mouths are formed in the shape of a smile. However, the dolphins in Sea World, and other dolphin parks are actually far from happy O’ Barry discusses how dolphins in captivity are actually very stressed creatures. Dolphins have highly sensitive sonar abilities, which allows them to hear everything within hundreds of miles. When in captivity, they are surround by a numerous amount of sounds, and it can become too much for them, causing them stress. Being overstressed can kill dolphins just as much as it can kill humans. Thus, many dolphins were beginning to commit suicide in captivity because of the stress caused by the people, the walls, and the city. Psihoyos’ documentary displays how dolphin parks for human amusement are wrong. In Taiji, they are very popular because the people love dolphins and want to see them “happy”. Little do they know, these dolphins are actually suffering.


Before the documentary film was released, there were twenty three thousand dolphins killed annually. These were the dolphins that were unwanted by the trainers. The dolphins are trapped within nets, and then slaughtered in a secret cove by the fishermen of Taiji. Any dolphin that was caught was killed. The dolphins’ meat was sold to grocery stores, where they were mislabeled and sold as high quality whale meat. One of Psihoyo’s team members, Steve, was the one who discovered that they were secretly packaging dolphin meat as whale meat. He was able to tell by reading the mercury content. The mercury content in dolphin meat is about 2000 ppt. That is very high, and should not be eaten on a regular basis. However, the Taiji school district began putting it into the children’s lunches. Two of Taiji’s council members were interviewed in Psihoyos’ film and because they spoke out, they were able to stop the inclusion of dolphin meat in their children’s lunches.

We would not slaughter a human, so why slaughter dolphins? They are intelligent, beautiful, non-violent creatures. The people of Taiji, and around the world adore these creatures because of their warmth, and how they do no harm. The animals that used to be treated as gods during the Greek times, are now being slaughtered. The documentary film, The Cove, is what provided the common people with the push they needed to stop the unjust acts of the fishermen and the Japanese government. It displayed to us how what we perceive is not always true. We may have believed that Taiji was a whale loving place, but in reality it was a whale’s and dolphin’s doom. Dolphins at Sea World may seem happy, but now we know the truth.



Kobe Beef, Meat That “Milt-In-Mouth”


Tajima Cattle

People may have heard the term “Kobe Beef” over and over times, and some may even have tasted it already, but what is “Kobe Beef”? “Kobe Beef” is the beef cut from cattles that are primarily raised in Hyogo Prefecture, Japan. The “Kobe Beef” as known in today are mainly refers to beef that is cut from Tajima cattle, a breed of black Japanese cattle.

There are many stories regard to the discovery of “Kobe Beef”, but this one is fairly reasonable. In late Tokugawa Shogunate, killing cattle was once prohibited in Japan as an order directly from the Emperor. Along with the prohibition and addition to eat beef was not a cultural thing for Japanese people, “Kobe Beef” was not renowned by Japanese people. As the decadence of Tokugawa Shogunate in late 19 century, many foreign merchants entered Japan, and as their culture that beef is one of their main diet, they squeezed under the law and discovered the taste of “Kobe Beef” was terrific. After that, the beef with its trademark “Kobe” becomes distinguished from other beef brands and renowned to the world.


“Kobe Beef” barbeque
(caption from koubegyu.net)

In United States, it’s not hard to find a restaurant that has “Kobe Beef” in their menu. However, according to USDA, between 2010 and 2012, “Kobe Beef” was banned from import to United States due to concern of certain diseases that may in the meat. If the restaurants input names in menus as Wagyu, it’s definitely fine because the U.S. has imported and domestically raised Wagyu for years. Wagyu, by its word to word definition, it means Japanese cattle. And importantly, there is no equal sign between Wagyu and “Kobe Beef”. “Kobe Beef”, by its significances, follows several strict rules, such as the beef must be processed in slaughterhouses that in designated locations in Japan and the meat quality must score above 4 and etcetera. The trademark is authorized only to the beef that fulfills all required conditions. Thus, there can’t be any authentic “Kobe Beef” used in restaurants in restricted time period in United States.


A5 class “Kobe Beef” sirloin steak
(caption from koubegyu.net)

Unlike other beef, “Kobe Beef” has a low melting point, and this leads to whoever has tasted it describes it as “melt-in-mouth”. The farming techniques that use to raise Tajima cattle somehow is a myth; mostly spread is that the farmers feed the cattle with beer and give them massage by human hand. And the selection of cattle that are going to send to the slaughterhouse must be virgin cattle, the reason behind this is to avoid milk stink in beef. Despites of myths around farming strategies, most of people agree the beef does “milt-in-mouth” if it’s cooked properly and does taste way better than other beefs. The demand for “Kobe Beef” is growing, however, the supply from Japan can’t equilibrate with the global demand. Because of shortage in supply, the price of the beef has increased extremely high; according to a domestic Japanese online market, a 200g (about 7oz.) sirloin “Kobe Beef” costs 7,350 yen with tax (about 73 dollars). “Kobe Beef” is certainly becomes superior, upscale and must-try meat for meat lovers.

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 and the Revealing of its Secrets

Documentary film making has always been one of the most effective methods for expressing the ideas and opinions of directors. Because of this, the popularity of the genre has grown tremendously over time. There are so many different types of documentary films that a genre can no longer be solely labeled as a documentary. As a result, there are now sub genres for documentaries that range from observational and expository to participatory and reflexive. In the shocking documentary titled The Cove, director Louie Psihoyos uses the participatory and expository methods of documentary filmmaking to show his journey to reveal the truth behind what happens within the confines of a small cove on the coast of Taiji, Japan. 

The Cove is a documentary about the capture and slaughter of tens of thousands of dolphins that occurs annually in Taiji, Japan. The main purpose of the capturing of these highly intelligent mammals is to find dolphins that can be taken and trained to perform at various water theme parks. Not all of the dolphins that are captured are selected for these positions, however. Those who aren’t fortunate enough to be selected by dolphin trainers are viciously killed in the cove by fisherman so their meat can be sold. Acquiring footage of what went on inside the cove was a great challenge for Psihoyos and his his crew because everything was heavily guarded to prevent any of the secrets about what happens inside from ever being exposed. The only way they were able to finally acquire footage of what went on in the cove was with the use of highly sophisticated and disguised camera equipment that was strategically placed in places where it would go unnoticed such as underwater as well as among the rocks that served as the natural barrier that stopped any outside eyes from ever seeing what was going on. 


An aerial long shot of the blood red waters inside the cove, which are safely hidden away from any outside viewers


Louie Psihoyos prepares for an attempt to obtain video footage inside the cove

The participatory style of documentary filmmaking is when the director of a film is shown interacting with others. Psihoyos plays an important role in his documentary because he is  right there as a part of the spy-like team of camera men who take the risk of entering a highly secure, prohibited area to find the truth behind what is happening to the dolphins who are captured in the cove. One reason that Psihoyos chose to put himself in the film is because he was very passionate exposing to the world the horrors that have been committed by these dolphin fishermen and he felt that by putting himself in the documentary, people could see his concern regarding the matter and understand that it what was happening in Taiji was a very serious issue. The second screenshot shows Louie Psihoyos in one of the first scenes of the documentary where he discusses the legal danger in what they are about to do to try to obtain footage of the dolphin killings. The use of night vision as well as thermal cameras as shown in the close-up screenshot add to the mystery of the theme which brings viewers feel as if they are almost coming along for the suspenseful journey right alongside Psihoyos.


A scientist gives statistical information on the amount of mercury contained in dolphin meat

The expository documentary style is an equally effective method that is used for grasping the viewers attention in a film such as The Cove. Expository filmmaking is the dictating or revealing of truth of about an event with facts. This method is almost necessary in this film where facts regarding the health risks of eating dolphin meat are reviewed. The recommended total level of mercury in seafood in Japan is 0.4 parts per million. When compared to the third screenshot, it is obviously a much smaller amount than what is contained in dolphin meat. This  scene leads to a reference to the Minamata disease, that explains how mercury poisoning in humans first became an issue in 1956 when people became poisoned from the consumption of fish in Minamata, Japan because a factory was dumping its waste into the ocean which was affecting the fish in the area. People who were affected by the Minamata disease suffered many serious health issues. Pregnant women were at the highest level of risk because they would often give birth to children with developmental issues who weren’t able to speak or walk. 

Louie Psihoyos was able to make a very powerful and effective documentary about the issue behind the slaughtering and selling of dolphin meat in Taiji, Japan. He did this through the utilization of different documentary techniques including participatory and expository filmmaking. His film was very effective because it gained popularity worldwide and an issue that was once unknown to even the majority of the Japanese population outside of Taiji became a matter that was suddenly known to everyone.