Tag Archives: film paper

The Cove and its Implications as a Documentary

           In “Why Are Ethical Issues Central to Documentary Filmmaking,” Bill Nichols writes that every film is a documentary; each film is either a documentary of wish-fulfillment (fiction) or a documentary of social representation (non-fiction) (Nichols).   Louie Psihoyos’ The Cove (2009) embodies the latter category of what can simply be called a documentary film as it follows Ric O’Barry’s struggles to expose the slaughtering of dolphins in the waters of a remote lagoon located in Taiji, Japan.

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            The Cove establishes Ric O’Barry as its main protagonist, and the documentary details not only his role in dolphin activism today but also his history with commercial dolphin captivity (Psihoyos).  The film first depicts Ric O’Barry’s earlier works with dolphins.  He once worked as a dolphin trainer for the 1960s TV series Flipper – a show that propelled dolphins into the mainstream (Psihoyos).  O’Barry’s past as a trainer for the popular Flipper series helped commercialize the capturing of dolphins (Psihoyos).  However, after production of the series ended, O’Barry adopted the life of an activist.  He believes that Kathy, the main dolphin that acted as “Flipper,” committed suicide by suffocating herself when she purposefully did not open her blowhole to take another breath (Psihoyos), and since that incident, he has worked to release captive dolphins back into the wild (Psihoyos).  The film almost appears to document O’Barry’s effort to rectify his past and what happened to Kathy.  By illustrating to the audience O’Barry’s past and current actions, the documentary personalizes Ric O’Barry’s life.   It becomes an appeal to the emotions of the viewer and an attempt to win the audience to O’Barry’s side. 

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The documentary even depicts the commitment of Ric O’Barry.  He says, “I never planned on being an activist. One thing leads to another, and now if there’s a dolphin in trouble anywhere in the world, my phone will ring” (Psihoyos).  The statement by O’Barry demands the viewer to acknowledge the dedication he has to his cause; it is another passionate ploy to gain the viewer to the side of “the speaker” (Nichols).

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            With O’Barry established as Nichols’ “speaker,” the documentary then portrays Taiji and its lagoon as the “them” that is spoken about – or against (Nichols).  Ric O’Barry is the speaker (the activist) who tries to convey to the viewer that Taiji is a “little town with a really big secret” (Psihoyos) – that is, dolphin slaughter by local fisherman and townsfolk occurs in an isolated cove in Taiji.

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From the “helicopters” to the “drones” to the “thermal cameras” (Psihoyos), the documentary takes on a tone of espionage and covert operations under Ric O’Barry and his crew.  In what appears to be an attempt to place the viewer on the actual team, the documentary even displays to the viewer a map that details all the locations where the crew should not trespass.  This aspect in the film essentially translates into another (fun) appeal to the viewer to gain him or her onto the Ric O’Barry effort against dolphin slaughter.

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Ethical issues also remain apparent in The Cove. Food becomes pertinent when the film attempts to document Japan’s “covering up” of the sale of dolphin meat in its markets (Psihoyos).  In the documentary, Scott Baker claims, “Dolphin meat is generally considered to be a less desirable commodity, and it would sell for far, far less, if it was properly labeled.  So the meat is distributed much more widely than…recognized” (Psihoyos).  The film portrays Japan’s government to be in cahoots with the slaughtering of dolphins in order to help the fishing industry, which sees dolphins and other whales as “pests” that hinder the size of the catch (Psihoyos).  But this is also where the film fails to depict to the viewer the other side; actual Japanese activists never make appearances in the film.  The viewer instead is shown obliviousness in the Japanese population when various native citizens display ignorance on the subject in front of the camera.  By dehumanizing the Japanese people into one group that seems to be either for dolphin slaughter or ignorant of it, The Cove makes yet another effort to win the viewer onto the side of the speaker.

            However, with all its endeavors to create a one-sided story of Ric O’Barry against the slaughtering of dolphins aside, the documentary still questions real ethical issues.  The documentary rightfully portrays dolphins as creative creatures with the ability to recognize self and capacity to learn and display intelligence at the level of humans (Psihoyos).  The main issue becomes not that of government corruption but that of the brutal slaughter of intelligent beings.  As humans, the ability to be conscious of being conscious remains remarkable – and this level of consciousness has been documented in dolphins (Psihoyos).  The documentary humanizes the dolphins in an effort to put the main issue at the forefront.  It allows the viewer to place him or herself into the dolphin’s flippers; it becomes an issue of right and wrong, a moral dilemma.  Separate species and mercury health side effects aside, humans and dolphins belong in the same category with regards to the ability to recognize oneself in the world.

Works Cited

Nichols, Bill. “Why Are Ethical Issues Central to Documentary Filmmaking,” from Introduction to Documentary(Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2010), 42-66.

Psihoyos, Louie. The Cove. Lionsgate, 2009. Film.

Amplifier of Human Hearts: Resonance in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle and The Birth of Astro Boy

A common relationship among humans, animals, and machines is depicted in both Momotaro’s Sea Eagle and The Birth of Astro Boy. Specifically, I will like to acknowledge the relationship between humans or animals and machines in Momotaro’s Sea Eagle and the relationship between humans and machines in The Birth of Astro Boy. Through the plot development of both stories, we observe the common relationship of how machines represent and amplify the ideologies of their users or creators, resonating with them in both anime productions. This relationship occurs through the internal transformation of the machines and results in the conversion from a person-to-tool relationship into a person-to-person relationship.

Shot 1: Close-Up Still Shot of Torpedo Bomber

To begin my analysis, I point to the above screenshot at the beginning scenes of Momotaro’s Sea Eagle. The close-up shot magnifies the weight of the machine, especially taken at an angle from which one person looks above from below. The looming clouds lurking in the background adds further tension to the already present stillness of the atmosphere. The different shades of gray not only depict realism, but also add to the coldness of the lifeless aircraft. However, as the animals, or perhaps arguably humans for their great degree of personification, start preparing, controlling, and riding these aircrafts, their depicted realism and coldness fade away in the scenes of playfulness, transforming into liveliness and friendliness.

Shot 2: Medium Still Shot of Astro Boy’s Birth

Similarly, when observing shot two from The Birth of Astro Boy, I notice how the multiple circular lines of light shadings at each major joint exemplifies the machine-ness of Astro Boy. The glowing parts of his hair and clothing all serve to signify the metallic element to his construction as the glows represent the reflection of light from a metallic surface. Furthermore, the electrical cords attached to him replace the organic singular umbilical cord. Instead of growing as a fetus, Astro Boy represents already a fully grown boy. However, through the initial love of his father, the education he receives, and the interaction with different robots and people, Astro Boy finally acquires human qualities.

As a science fiction, The Birth of Astro Boy captivates the hearts of his audience not only through the intentional use of familiar objects as implemented by the author, but also through Astro Boy’s personal development. Instead of functioning simply as a tool for circuit performance, Astro Boy learns intellectually as a regular child, makes additional robot friends at the circus, and also saves people. Such developments and characteristics can be viewed as a manifestation of love from his father initially, eventually starting a wave for human rights for robots. Likewise, through the propagandizing nature of Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, the playful and friendly scenes of the greatly personified animals establish a transformation of relationships, going from person-to-machine to person-to-person or animal-to-person.

As the audiences, the animals, the people, and the robots become acquainted with the aircrafts and Astro Boy, a personal relationship arises. The aircrafts and Astro Boy are no longer described as useful or cold, typical adjectives associated with tools, but are rather described as cute and warm, adjectives associated with living beings. Hence, through this transformation of relationships, we see how tools and machines function as an amplifier of the human heart, representing our personal qualities and eventually acquiring them themselves.

Humans First; Animals and Technology Second

In both Momotarō’s Sea Eagle and Astro Boy, humans are seen with limited capabilities.  Both pieces of early Japanese anime depict humans in settings where they interact with either animals or technology.  In both of these cases, however, humans play dominant roles.  Although both films display the inadequacies of humans, they contrarily illustrate the power they hold over non-human objects.  Additionally, animals and technology are personified with human-like qualities which allow for their contention with humans, despite their inferiority to them.  Momotarō’s Sea Eagle depicts a group of well-trained animal soldiers and Astro Boy tells the story of good samaritan robot that is capable of expressing emotions.  Both of these anime-style films reflect the hierarchal relationship between humans and technology and animals.

Astro Boy is discerned with his metal heart, despite not being human he expresses emotion (a human quality).

Momotarō’s Sea Eagle is a World War II propaganda film that features the Japanese folklore character “Momotaro” as the human leader of a group of monkey-like soldiers that are organizing the Pearl Harbor attacks.  These animal soldiers display many human characteristics, such as pulling pranks on one another.  Perhaps the most human-like quality the possess is their well disciplined and highly trained behavior when in the midst of combat.  Contrarily, the American soldiers that reside at “Demon Island” (what Pearl Harbor is referred to) are seen as clumsy and unknowledgeable regarding technology.  The spry monkeys display advanced knowledge of technology, as they are able to conduct an attack using planes and torpedoes.  The advanced monkeys, clumsy Americans, and war technology that resonate much better with the monkeys than the American human soldiers reveal a triad relationship between humans, animals and technology.  This relationship illustrates that the animals have surpassed their counterpart humans, yet they still obey the orders of their human leader, Momotaro.  This creates an interesting web between the hierarchy of humans, animals and technology which is further seen in Astro Boy.

Astro Boy tells the story of Tobio, a boy that died in a car accident, whose father then recreates him as a robot.  His father spoils his newly recreated son and yearns to give him everything he can.  The robot, now named Astro Boy, appreciates this and expresses compassion towards his father.  The relationship between this robot boy and his father resemble a typical father-son relationship, which further personifies Astro Boy as a human being.  When Astro Boy’s father realizes his son is incapable of growing older, he dismisses him.  Astro Boy enters a new world filled with robots, where his new owner forces him and other robots to fight each other in a ring surrounded by a human audience.  Again, humans are seen as the superior characters, where they enjoy the demeaning process of robots fighting each other.   Throughout the episode, Astro Boy’s great powers are revealed.  He is extremely smart and brave, and saves several humans from a building fire.  Similar to Momotarō’s Sea Eagle, Astro Boy has far more capabilities and is more advanced than the human characters, yet the humans ultimately still remain in a superior role where they dictate the behavior and actions of the animals and technology-based characters.  This exhibits a potential dimension of their relationship, and that’s that since humans shaped the demeanor of the animal and robot characters, it seems they inherit an authority position over their creatures.

The spry monkeys line up for their leader, Momotaro, after finishing their attack.

Genre Comparison in Anime – Momotaro’s Sea Eagle and Astro Boy

Animated film producers of works like Momotaro’s Sea Eagle and Astro Boy mix humans, animals, and machines to deliver thematic messages to audiences about camaraderie, loyalty, relationships, technology’s role in society and adventure. In Momotaro’s Sea Eagle, Mitsuyo Seo’s employment of animal soldiers commanding advanced weaponry is used for WWII propagandistic purposes. Led by Momotaro, the adorable animal crew fly planes, wield swords, drop bombs, sink ships, and set fire to enemy fleets. The cuteness of the animals downplays the seriousness of war, while invoking feelings of pride, honor, and nationalism in viewers. Although the setting is wartime, the film is infused with playful and jocular moments. In one scene, the monkey is seen playing with a little bird, bounding through the skies with it on his back. This friendly portrait contrasts starkly with the war effort. However, even in fighting scenes, the animals make wreaking havoc seem entertaining and fun. Momotaro and his crew’s bravery in attacking the ogres of Demon Island demonstrated the power of teamwork and strength through solidarity. How often do cute monkeys ride missiles or do tricks while burning down planes?  These endearing images were perfect for young audiences to accept militarism and the pride of being a Japanese soldier.

Monkey cheerfully holds his pistol during battle.

Osama Tezuka’s Astro Boy follows the adventures of a robot boy coexisting with humans in a futuristic world. Astro’s existence relies on the science used to create him. Although he is technically a machine, he exhibits real human emotions. His interactions with people, like his “father,” teachers, and the cruel circus manager, demonstrate his ability to think critically and genuinely feel joy, sadness, success and rejection. With his father, Astro behaves like an actual human boy, save for several unique interpretations of reality (like his chemical composition drawing of fruit) and his inability to age. Tezuka’s choice to show Astro’s perception of something like an apple on the atomic level reminds the audience that he is not, in fact, human. During his brief stint in the circus, Astro shows his ‘humanity’ by refusing to destroy his fellow robot opponent in the ring. Unlike a typical robot who would feel no loyalty nor attachment, he even goes on to rejuvenate rejected robots with his own energy supply. When the circus tent collapses in a fire inferno, they save the evil circus manager and show attendees even though they had been mistreated. This reinforces the human-like quality of robots to experience things like camaraderie and Tezuka shows audiences that peaceful coexistence between different groups, like animals and robots, is really possible.

Astro’s interpretation of a plate of fruit.

Although Seo and Tezuka used anime for different purposes, both men creatively communicate with viewers via the flexible and dynamic nature of animation. In reality, the blend of humans, animals and technology would have been expensive and impractical for production. Animation allowed them to unleash their imaginations without being constrained by anything except their drawing speeds and deadlines.