Japan’s Far Right Blocks Screenings of ‘The Cove’

Members of a Japanese nationalist group in Yokohama recently demanded that a local theater not show the film ‘The Cove.’

Via NY Times, by Hiroko Tabuchi:

The Cove,” an Oscar-winning documentary about dolphin hunting in Japan, would seem to be a natural fit for movie theaters here, but so far the distributor has yet to find a single one that will screen the film.

And if Shuhei Nishimura and his compatriots on Japan’s nationalist fringe have their way, none ever will.

In a country that shudders at disharmony and remains wary of the far right’s violent history, the activists’ noisy rallies, online slanders, intimidating phone calls and veiled threats of violence are frightening theaters into canceling showings of “The Cove,” which not only depicts dolphin hunting in an unflattering light but also warns of high levels of mercury in fish, a disturbing disclosure in this seafood-loving nation.

It is a stark example as well of how public debate on topics deemed delicate here can be easily muffled by a small minority, the most vocal of whom are the country’s estimated 10,000 rightists who espouse hard-line stances in disputes against Tokyo’s neighbors.

Other areas that have been effectively made taboo by the right wing include Japan’s royal family, rights for ethnic minorities, Tokyo’s occupation of parts of Asia in the last century, the nation’s role in World War II and organized crime groups, many of which have close links with the far right.

Groups like Mr. Nishimura’s Society for the Restoration of Sovereignty, which has just a handful of core members, have recently made it their mission to counter international criticism of practices like whaling and dolphin hunting. In countless rallies, the society’s members have argued that the hunts are time-honored Japanese traditions that must be protected from Western condemnation, and “The Cove” is now their No. 1 target.

“If you have any pride in your nation, do not show this film,” Mr. Nishimura bellowed through his loudspeakers at a protest in front of the Yokohama New Theater, with about 50 protesters with billboards and rising-sun flags in tow. “Will you poison Japan’s soul?”

“The Cove” features scenes, many of them filmed surreptitiously, of dolphin hunts in the village of Taiji, southwest of Tokyo. A group of activists led by Ric O’Barry, who trained dolphins for the television series “Flipper,” witness the violent hunts in a secluded lagoon, where fishermen corral dolphins, select a few to capture alive and use harpoons to stab the rest to death, turning the inlet crimson with their blood.

The killings, the activists charge, are driven by a lucrative trade in live dolphins for aquariums as well as a local market for dolphin meat, which is contaminated with mercury.

Commercial whaling has been outlawed worldwide since the mid-1980s, but the ban does not cover smaller marine mammals like dolphins. Japan kills about 13,000 dolphins a year, according to the Fisheries Agency, of which about 1,750 are captured in Taiji. Most of those killed in Taiji’s hunts are bottlenose dolphins, which are not endangered. The movie has raised passions in the United States, too, though of a far different sort. After some covert work by the movie’s producers — timed to coincide with the Oscar ceremonies — investigators raided a sushi restaurant in Santa Monica, Calif., in March and charged its owners with serving endangered Sei whale. After an apology, the restaurant soon closed its doors, apparently in an act of gustatory hara-kiri.

Advocates of free speech here have urged theaters to resist the threats and show the documentary, made by the American filmmaker Louie Psihoyos. Many Japanese are unaware that dolphin hunts take place here, where consumption of dolphin meat is rare, and critics say it is time for a public debate.

A few businesses are resisting the nationalists’ pressure. The Internet service company Niwango plans a free streaming of the film on Friday, though for only 2,000 viewers.

But three theaters canceled runs of the film in early June after Mr. Nishimura’s group warned on its Web site that it would stage demonstrations outside two theaters in central Tokyo. Twenty-three others are still mulling whether to show the film. Not one is currently screening it.

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