‘Cove’ Oscar is Taiji’s chagrin


“The Cove,” a film showing the yearly slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, took the Oscar for best feature documentary in the annual Academy Awards ceremony Sunday in Los Angeles.

On Monday, officials in Taiji released a statement calling for understanding of food culture and long-standing traditions.

“I just want to say that it was an honor to work on this film and to try to make an entertaining film that also tries to enlighten everybody,” Fisher Stevens, producer of “The Cove,” said in accepting the award, accompanied by director Louie Psihoyos and dolphin conservationist Rick O’Barry at the Kodak Theatre.

The film contains footage of dolphins being brutally killed and points out that meat from the mammals has high levels of toxic methyl mercury.

It also explains how O’Barry, a dolphin protection activist and protagonist of the film, fell in love with dolphins; how local fishermen and police tried to block the movie crew from filming; and how the crew used ingenious high-tech devices to secretly film the hunt. Much of the movie was filmed with hidden cameras over a five-year period.

Taiji officials said in a statement sent by facsimile to The Japan Times on Monday, “Dolphin and whale hunting in Taiji is not an illegal act, (is) in compliance with the Fisheries Act and under Wakayama Prefecture’s approval.

“We regret the movie expresses false things that are not based on scientific evidence as if they were true,” the town, which is currently checking methyl mercury density of residents’ hair, said in the statement.

High concentrations of mercury in the human body causes neurological damage.

“The Cove,” which covers the annual slaughter of dolphins herded into a Taiji inlet, drew international attention to the brutality of the hunt when it debuted in cinemas in the U.S., Europe, Oceania and other parts of Asia.

Norio Okahara of Tokyo-based Medallion Media, a movie distributor that bought the rights to show “The Cove” in Japan, hails the movie’s achievements.

“It’s great that the film won the Oscar. We would really like to realize the plan to show the film,” Okahara said, adding his company is in talks with the town of Taiji.

Medallion is creating the version with faces pixilated to protect privacy, he said.

Unplugged Inc., a distributor Medallion hired, said it is trying to make the movie available at cinemas in Japan in May or June, he added.

So far, the film has only been shown twice in Japan, at two small venues — the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward in September, and the Tokyo Film Festival in Minato Ward in October.

“I think it’s a deserving award because it put (a) spotlight on a very barbaric animal abuse activity in Taiji,” said Boyd Harnell, a journalist who has been covering the issue since 2005. “I am very happy the film won the award because it’s important that people know this type of (activity) is a health issue. The real issue is that fishermen (are) poisoning their own people.”