The Whale Museum in the seaside town of Taiji, where the tradition of hunting whales spans generations. (Photos courtesy Yagi Films Inc.)
BEVERLY HILLS — “Behind the Cove,” a documentary by Keiko Yagi, is now playing at Laemmle’s Music Hall, 9036 Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills.
The filmmaker will participate in Q&A at the theater after the 7:20 p.m. screenings on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 2 and 3, and after the 2:20 screening on Sunday, Dec. 4.
“Behind the Cove,” which had its U.S. premiere in New York last month, includes interviews with people on both sides of the international whaling dispute, including the director, Louis Psihoyos, and featured anti-whaling activist, Ric O’Barry, from 2009’s “The Cove,” an Academy Award-winning film that negatively portrays the practices of fishermen in the small, remote town of Taiji.
This is the first film to respond to “The Cove” from the Japanese perspective. While generally highly regarded, “The Cove” has also been lambasted by some critics for being one-sided propaganda or Japan-bashing, for lacking a basic understanding of related cultural issues, and for using deceptive filmmaking strategies. The depiction of Japanese people in the film has also been controversial.
Filmmaker Keiko Yagi
What started out as a personal investigation, triggered by childhood memories of whale dishes, led first-time filmmaker Yagi to Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, which is at the center of the whaling debate. With no budget, limited experience in filmmaking, no fluency in English, but armed with a video camera and a strong desire to find out the truth of the matter on whaling, Yagi discovered a much bigger story than she had initially imagined.
In “Behind the Cove,” Yagi attempts to present a comprehensive picture of dolphin and whale hunting issues in Japan, which includes interviews with people on both sides of the dispute, its political side, what “The Cove” did not offer, and a unique take on the topic.
Throughout filming, Yagi got to know the anti-whaling activists, who set up camp in Taiji every year during the dolphin-hunting season. Yagi also presents the voices of the Japanese, who usually consider silence to be a virtue. To get a balanced and greater understanding of the story, she also interviewed experts in the whaling world from Japan and overseas, including representatives from the International Whaling Commission (IWC), scientists, and researchers.
Yagi said that as she delved into the topic, specific issues with “The Cove” became apparent: “Before Western environmental and animal activist concerns persecuted the animal agriculture and fishing practices of the East in such a highly publicized and critical way, you’d think they’d first take a serious look at the situation at home prior to using Japan, a quiet country, as a scapegoat.
“In the U.S. alone, billions and billions of land and marine animals are subjected to deplorable conditions before they are brutally killed for food each year to satisfy the heavy meat-eating habits of Americans … The relatively small fishing village of Taiji, in rural Japan, accounts for marine animal deaths in the thousands, not billions. To demonize such a relatively small industry abroad, when compared to the magnitude of what’s happening in – and is relatively ignored in – the U.S., seems a bit misguided and, perhaps, even racist.”
Anti-whaling protesters from Sea Shepherd take photos of Yagi.
Yagi is not alone in these sentiments. David Cox of The Guardian Film Blog called The Cove a “piece of evangelism,” and said that from a neutral point of view “Westerners… kill and eat cows. Easterners eat dolphins. What’s the difference?”
Academic Ilan Kapoor, echoing a famous phrase by Gayatri Spivak, argues, “It’s a case of (mostly) ‘white men saving cute dolphins from yellow men.’”
Japanese Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Hirotaka Akamatsu said, “It is regrettable that this movie is made as a message that brutal Japanese are killing cute dolphins.”
According to Michelle Orange of Movieline, “As a piece of propaganda, ‘The Cove’ is brilliant; as a story of ingenuity and triumph over what seems like senseless brutality, it is exceptionally well-told; but as a conscientious overview of a complex and deeply fraught, layered issue, it invokes the same phrase as even the most well-intentioned, impassioned activist docs: Buyer beware.”
Yagi further explains, “In Japan, some fishermen, particularly in remote rural areas, see dolphins and whales as just fish, consumed for centuries as part of local cultural traditions…. In China, dog meat from man’s best friend is acceptable to some as a food source… In the bacon-loving U.S., highly intelligent and social pigs are widely considered suitable for cruel slaughterhouse practices and the dinner table. There are cultural differences as to which animals are deemed acceptable as food sources and which are not.
“One of the key questions our film poses is: Who gets to choose which animals are okay to eat?”
Remaining showtimes: Friday, Dec. 2, at 7:20 and 10 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 3, at 2:20, 4:50, 7:20 and 10 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 4, to Thursday, Dec. 8, at 12, 2:20, 4:50, 7:20 and 10 p.m. For more information, call (310) 478-3836 or visit www.laemmle.com.
For information on the film, visit www.behindthecove.com.