Dolphin hunt film, the Cove, screened in Japan

By Roland Buerk
BBC News, Tokyo


The Oscar winning documentary The Cove is to be shown in Japanese cinemas for the first time.

The film is about dolphin hunting in Japan.

Earlier plans to screen it there were scrapped after cinemas were targeted by demonstrators.

The screening will take place in Theatre Image Forum a tiny arts cinema in the backstreets of Tokyo's Shibuya district

It does not look like the kind of place that usually gets what amounts to the Japanese premier of an Oscar-winning film.

But the owners are not making much of the opening of The Cove this weekend - there is just one small poster on the wall outside.

image captionMuch of The Cove was filmed covertly

Nationalist protestors have condemned the film as poisonous and a distortion of the truth.

They say its makers have links to the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, the environmental group which has been harassing Japanese whalers in the Southern Ocean.

Cinemas cancelled earlier screenings to avoid the demonstrators' noisy pickets.

Polite demonstration

Last week one group was using the same tactics outside the office of a newspaper which had argued the controversy over The Cove had become an issue of freedom of speech.

It was all very polite. The protestors stood behind a barrier, and even bowed when they handed over their petition.

But the noise from their loudspeakers mounted on a van echoed around the area.

The newspaper's managers, who gathered on their building's steps to hear the loud complaints, plainly did not enjoy the confrontation.

The protest organiser Shuhei Nishimaru told the BBC that the film was "criticising Japanese culture and looking down on the Japanese people".

"That's the issue," he said. "I don't think this should even be called a documentary film."

The Cove is about the bloody, but legal, dolphin hunts by fishermen from the town of Taiji on Japan's coast.

Partly filmed with hidden cameras it shows them using boats to drive the animals into a small bay, which is then closed off with nets to prevent them escaping.

The best specimens are separated off to be sold to aquariums before the rest are slaughtered for their meat.

The fishermen are portrayed as rough goons trying to hide their activities from outsiders.

In the version of the film being shown in Japan their faces have been pixellated after they complained their privacy had been violated.

The Cove's Japanese distributor, Unplugged, was also targeted by demonstrators, until the company got a court order to block them from from gathering outside their offices.

The courts have now done the same for two of the six cinemas which will be screening The Cove from this weekend, with more expected to follow.

Takeshi Kato of Unplugged said: "My motto is to show any film that I feel that people need to see.

"I think this film is something that should be watched by all Japanese, even the people who protest against it should see it."

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