Censorship of The Cove in Japan

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

In recent months, members of a right-wing nationalist group in Japan have been protesting outside the Tokyo office of Unplugged, the Japanese distributor of The Cove, criticizing the film as a betrayal of Japanese pride. The group uses loudspeakers to shout slogans like "eco-terrorist", and have even protested outside the home of Unplugged CEO Takeshi Kato.

After a flood of angry phone calls, three movie theaters in Tokyo and Osaka have cancelled showing The Cove due to threats of protests outside of screenings. Citing fears about the safety of moviegoers and nearby businesses, these theaters have been intimidated by this small group of extremists in what amounts to censorship of the film.

Kato said in a statement, "Since The Cove won the Oscar, our office and my house has been relentlessly attacked by propaganda activities. Now these attacks have begun on theaters. [These theaters] made a tough decision. The Cove is not anti-Japanese film. We need to debate the content in constructive way. We lament that we are losing opportunities to see the film about Japan, in Japan. We will continue to discuss the situation carefully with other theaters and exert maximum effort to release The Cove."

A letter supporting the release of The Cove was signed by 55 public personalities in Japan, saying that the suppression of the film "underlines the weakness of the freedom of speech in Japan."Despite the nationalist group’s attempts at threatening and intimidating the Japanese distributor and exhibitors, the film is still scheduled to screen in 23 other theaters on June 26th. 

Ric O’Barry, former Flipper trainer, is currently in Japan for the premiere of the film and will be talking to media and other groups leading up to that date.

Watch Director Louie Psihoyos' reaction to this censorship.

Video of nationalist protestors outside the home of Takeshi Kato, CEO of Unplugged, the Japanese distributor of
The Cove.

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” - Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, April 22, 2010

In the Gandhi Play Book for Social Change we’re now officially beginning the fight stage. I directed a film called The Cove and last week 50 riot police were on hand to protect our Japanese distributor from violent demonstrators outside their Tokyo offices. We knew there would be some backlash from the right wing nationalists – they have become a fixture around the city with their slogan splattered trucks with 1000 watt speakers blaring propaganda and frightening consumers when they encounter any perceived threat to the old order – the right wing nationalists come from the same lineage that believed that the emperor was a deity and their superior race justified starting WWII.  The group uses freedom of speech to shield their radical agenda but in reality they are a kind of work-for-hire intimidation force not unlike the Mob, was in America.  Their appearance at the Unplugged office drew the attention of the media, and thus, the world. They had my full endorsement as long as they didn’t hurt anyone, between the endless CNN news loops and the international wire services firing out copy around the world - you can’t pay for that kind of publicity. But events got much uglier when the media wasn’t on hand to document their antics a few days ago.

At about 7:30 a.m. Monday morning the radical right-wingers showed up at the home of Mr. Kato, our distributor of The Cove in Japan.  They began beating on his front door and shouting threats through powerful loudspeakers for about 30 minutes.  He and his family were frightened and fortunately managed to escape through the back door.  Not much later, about 20 police showed up and cleared the protesters away but these thugs vowed to return every day and night until our distributor backs down from showing The Cove.

Who are these people?  Our “Man in Japan” David Kubiak writes:

“Most of groups are affiliated with yakuza syndicates and work for people who want something shutdown or someone shut up. In the olde days, they used to find vulnerable companies and storm into their shareholder meetings to protest loudly and violently on behalf of an adopted victim, and keep at it til someone from the company paid them off. Then the companies got smarter and hired them up front as security for shareholder meetings where they were expecting trouble from real victims with real complaints.”

“During the Kyoto '93 IWC meeting, the same flavor of nationalist gangs attacking Kato now were reportedly paid nearly $3 mill to keep their broadcast buses circling the city and conference hall throughout. There are probably 50~60,000 card-carrying rightist/mobsters just in Kanto these days and keeping them in flashy cars and Guccis does cost a bit.”

“In any event, these are not "protests" we are witnessing at Unplugged, they are theatrical events staged on behalf of a client somewhere for purely monetary ends. That's not to say, these boys won't break things or hurt people if they feel they have to to make their point. Besides going to jail for these dudes is a career advancement track - it gets them triple seniority credits in their gang for the years spent inside.”

A statement by the group lays out their position, “Stop the release of The COVE! We think the release is a terror attack.  If they still go ahead with this release, we determine that UNPLUGGED and president Kato are terrorists. Then if anything happens, nobody but they are responsible for this.  Because we need to protect our Japanese life, property, safe and pride of our ethnicity.”

I find this interesting because we made this movie to protect Japanese life by making them safe.

The Cove is not an anti-Japanese movie.  Until we shot this film, very few Japanese knew dolphin hunting was going on in their country.  Our crew spent a day on the Ginza trying with great difficulty to find a single person who knew of the hunt.  Our interpreter and we were met with incredulous denials even after we showed people the footage we had shot of dolphins being killed in a secret cove.  It was like we were informing them that a part of their society was engaged in cannibalism.  They were horrified and refused to believe it.  Still, since the 1986 moratorium on whaling, hundreds of thousands of dolphins and porpoises have been killed throughout Japan. Much of the meat is sold to unsuspecting consumers as whale meat from the ‘scientific whaling’ program.
     When our crew first arrived in Japan to research the dolphin hunt we discovered that thousands of children were being force-fed poisonous dolphin meat through school lunch programs.  School lunch participation is compulsory in many areas of Japan and children must eat everything on their plate. The most deleterious effects of mercury are to the developing brains of small children.  When I asked Japan’s most famous mercury researcher, Dr. Ekino what the effects of mercury are he told me, “It slowly erases what it means to be human.”  He then showed me the brain tissues of children, the mercury victims from Japan’s most infamous industrial disaster in Minamata.  Beginning in the mid-1950’s Japan’s most advanced factory, Chisso Minamata secretly began dumping mercury into Minamata bay.  The mercury rose through the food chain until birds began dropping out of the sky, cats began behaving erratically.  First called “Dancing Cats Disease,” until it started showing up in children, eventually crippling and sometimes killing them.  It finally became known as Minamata’s Disease but it’s not a disease, it’s not caught like the flu. It’s an attack on one’s system, in this case a poison knowingly injected into communal water system.   Thousands died and many hundreds more thousands were exposed and had a series of lesser but debilitating effects.  But what is truly disconcerting was that the company knew they were poisoning the local people by cheaply disposing of toxic waste into communal waterways.  The Japanese Supreme court later convicted the Japanese government of helping Chisso Minamata to cover up the outbreak.  The last of those cases were settled only a little over a year ago.  However, by silencing doctors and censoring the press many more victims died and suffered than had to.   At meetings the same groups of right-wing thugs were employed to beat up members of the press and harass victims. 

In a cabinet full of the preserved brains of Minamata victims professor Ekino, showed me how mercury rots out the neurons of the brain eating ever-increasing holes through the delicate network of neurons in the gray matter.  He then told me something very chilling, “Dolphin meat has higher levels of mercury than the fish that caused Minamata disease.”   Because of fear of government reprisals and right wing backlash he refused to participate in our film. 

Former Flipper trainer Ric O’Barry and our organization, The Oceanic Preservation Society, gave Japanese scientific reports about dolphin toxicity to officials in the Wakayama prefecture, where much of the meat was being distributed. The mayor of Taiji, the town at the center of the dolphin hunt, had a scheme to spread the toxic meat to children all over Japan.  Two concerned council members, one who had two small children in the school system then acted to get the dolphin meat pulled from school lunch menus. As a result, tens of thousands of children will not be poisoned because parents were armed with information delivered by a few brave politicians.  Not surprisingly, the mayor and his business partners became angry and found strong allies with the right wing nationalists who are also the primary forces defending and profiting from the whale and dolphin hunts.  The council member Mr. Yamashita, who was born in Taiji, had to flee with his family for their safety from the same forces our distributor is facing. He now drives a taxi outside Tokyo.  It is our belief that Mr. Yamashita and Mr. Kato will one day be regarded as heroes but right now they are just scared for their family’s life.

I didn’t expect these radicals to have an unlikely ally in censorship with the U.S. military. Last week, Japan Times investigative reporter, Boyd Harnell emailed me. It seems a Colonel Frank Eppich at Yakota Air Force Base outside Tokyo made a decision to not show The Cove at the US base theater.  He felt that it would be viewed  as an endorsement of film.  American troops will instead be allowed to view films like Astro Boy and Princess and the Frog at the base theater.

Full disclosure, I have not yet seen Astro Boy or Princess and the Frog but his censorship calls into question the kind of movies are our troops allowed to see.  The Cove is rated PG-13.  Certainly it’s not too violent for a soldier’s eyes.  Clash of the Titans also shares the same rating and is enjoying a nice run at the same venue.  Even though The Cove is not in 3-D, if screened the troops would witness something much more real and relevant. The Cove is right down the coast.

The Cove is microcosm of a worldwide problem where humanity is polluting and plundering the oceans to the point that we are leaving each succeeding generation with a severely diminished environment.  Scientists call this adaptation to diminishment “Shifting Baseline Syndrome.” In America, there are now mercury and pollution advisories out for every state in America.  Fresh water streams, ponds and lakes are home to fish like trout and walleye pike that have mercury loads that can exceed those of the largest blue fin tuna swimming off the East Coast of America.  The primary cause of mercury in their flesh is from the fallout of coal-fired power plants. These generating plants release a toxic plume of poison downwind of every body of water and waterway in their path.  And everything is downstream to the ocean.  There are more than 800 dead zones out in the oceans and these are expanding and connecting. 

Most alarming is that the oceans are now absorbing ever- increasing levels of man-made carbon. Everything with a carbon structure is having trouble developing in this newly acidic environment.  Coral reefs are dissolving and disappearing so fast that at this rate our children’s children will only be able to view them in historic photographs and films.  Plankton, with a thin carbon shell, is also at peril. And plankton is the basis of all life. We might think plankton has nothing to do with our lives but two out of every three breaths we take we owe to plankton.  Plankton generates far more oxygen than all the land plants in the world.

We need environmental films now more than any other time in history. When censored, we defuse one of the most powerful weapons we have.   An uninformed population becomes its worst enemy when citizens fail to inform themselves or caves into suppression.  We are hoping that The Cove will give the information to the Japanese people that their government has failed to give them and then the people can then decide for themselves what to do about the issue.

The nationalists say they will be back protesting at our distributor’s offices and home every day until they relent.  Yet our plan is to release this film in Japan no matter the obstacles. Whether one lives on a military base in a foreign land or in a home in America or anywhere, we’re all in the fight now and it goes way beyond a secret cove in a faraway land.  And what is at stake is more than artificial political boundaries but something vastly more important – humanity’s legacy on Earth.  A colleague in social change, Peter Diamandis the founder of the X-Prize, told me yesterday that the best way to predict the future is to create it.

On Earth Day you can download a free 15-minute Japanese version of The Cove and pass the link on to your Japanese friends,  Also, the first 100 of our troops from Yakota Air Base can write us at [email protected] and we’ll send a copy of The Cove for free.  All we ask is that you view it and pass it on to your friends. 

For the Wild,
Louie Psihoyos
Director of the Oceanic Preservation Society  


Oscar® Videos: Louie's Acceptance Speech, Backstage Thank You Cam & More

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

We've compiled a few special Oscar videos for you all to enjoy! Watch Director Louie Psihoyos give his Oscar acceptance speech, a special thank you to our supporters, and his list of personal thank yous from backstage at the Oscars.

And check out Louie's behind the scenes at the Oscars on the Thank You Cam.

Whales and Dolphins Don't Like To Be Confined

Thursday, February 25, 2010

In light of the recent tragedy at SeaWorld, the world reviews this practice of confining and training sea mammals.
Whale trainer Dawn Brancheau, 40, died Wednesday from "multiple traumatic injuries and drowning" after 12,000 pound Tilikum attacked her. This is not his first incident.
Science tells us that  imprisoned creatures suffer psychological stress that can lead to unpredictable behavior. They turn neurotic.
We here at OPS naturally fall into the "set them free" camp as we hear from legions of supporters vowing never to visit dolphinariums.
"When you take sentient, intelligent animals out of the wild and force them to do stupid tricks for our amusement, it says more about our intelligence than theirs." says Louie Psihoyos, director of The Cove.
Hopefully the world reviews the practice of transporting dolphins and whales from their glorious setting, the sea to concrete tubs.

"We join people in mourning this tragedy while keeping in mind that these animals don't belong in captivity. Our film The Cove reinforces this notion that placing dolphins and whales in captivity is not an acceptable method of educating the public about these magnificent and normally peaceful animals. The fact that this particular whale has killed others in the past is evidence of this, especially when considering that there are no documented cases of whales attacking humans in the wild. This is a tragedy that could have been prevented." says Psihoyos.

Journey to the Oscars

Thursday, February 18, 2010

With all the recent Academy Awards® buzz, OPS would like to remind everyone how excited we are to be nominated for a 2009 Best Documentary Oscar® because of the increased attention it's bringing to the issue that matters most-- ending the slaughter in Japan. While the award would certainly be an honor on the film front, imagine the impact the win could possibly have in Taiji...could it bring about enough media attention to pressure the Japanese government to stop? Reflecting on the upcoming awards with "The Wrap", director Louie Psihoyos says:

"The media likes to portray the awards season as a kind of competition, but in the film world, we’re all really collaborators trying to keep humanity from falling over the edge. Look at the films nominated for an Oscar this year, from “Avatar” to “Hurt Locker,” “Precious,” “District 9,” “An Education,” “Up in the Air,” “Food Inc.,” “Burma VJ” and “The Cove,” and at the heart of each you will find the spirit of humanity glowing bright, telling a story, highlighting an injustice, and entertaining countless millions."

Congratulations to all of the Oscar nominees. Together we are using the art of filmmaking as an educational tool, an artistic release, and a cause for activism.

On another note, check out Louie's blog post of the Huffington Post today: "If You had 45 Seconds to Talk to the World-- What would YOU say?"

Everyone's A Star

Monday, January 25, 2010

I'm writing this now from the renovated Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Blvd, the sidewalk behind my breakfast banquet table thick with a double row of stars embedded in the concrete, “Some that you recognize, some that you have hardly even heard of…” as the Kinks’ song goes.

The Cove team has been busy picking up awards recently on both coasts, Critic's Choice and LA Film Critic's Best Documentary on the West Coast and three Cinema Eye Awards in New York. Last night, producers Paula DuPre Pesmen and Fisher Stevens were honored for best-produced documentary by the Producers Guild of America.

I couldn't be happier with the mounting accolades for the film, but to me the trophies are really the collateral of what happens when we try to solve the issue.  It raises awareness for the issue and that is a great thing for any documentary.  I've told our team from the beginning, we're trying to make a movement more than a movie.

At Critic's Choice the programmers had Food Inc Director Robert Kenner and I and some of his team sitting next to each other at the same table.  We agreed that awards competition brings healthy attention to our respective issues, which in our case are partly overlapping.  However, we feel that the documentary filmmakers are more collaborators than competitors.  The fact that anyone is even talking about our lonely outpost of the solar system seems to be uplifting for everyone making them.  As we hover on the fringes, sharing the glow of the big movie stars and their Hollywood mega hits, it's nice that our little films can orbit for a few minutes around in the vast Hollywood Nebulae.

Picking up awards in LA for The Cove we shared the stage with Jeff Bridges, George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Paul McCartney, Carey Mulligan, Wes Anderson, the Cohen Brothers, James Cameron and Kathryn Bigelow.  Truth be told, it's actually the same award we hold - the very same award.  After they hand it to you up on the podium with great pomp and spectacle, teary eyed recipients thanking everyone from their mother to their agent, you are whisked backstage where a couple of beefy guys in all black suits and ties wearing those secret service ear peaces pries the trophy from your grips.  It turns out they only have one award made up and they have to use it for the next award winner.  "Got it," one says to some invisible producer in a back stage control room, and just like that you're hurtling back to Earth like some dazed astronaut who’s both happy to have made the journey to be back safe on solid ground.  The only thing to show for it is your fingerprints on some piece of glass and metal that is now in somebody else's teary hands.

The manager of the Roosevelt Hotel gave me a tour of the hotel yesterday and showed me a room that was the site of the first Academy Awards ceremony where the Oscar was first given.  I was told that first ceremony lasted 8 minutes. I had no idea our slightly dingy hotel had that kind of pedigree.  There was a conference being set-up for California tourism and a gentleman was putting up a kiosk for SeaWorld by one of the big double door entrances.  I was reminded that our real reward will come when cetaceans are awarded their freedom and killing them for meat becomes one of those dark chapters in the history of man's evolution as a species.

Until then, to everyone who has ever supported the cause, hopefully we will get there before our stars turn to dust.

For the Wild,


"The Cove" wins Critics Choice Award!

Monday, January 18, 2010

In case you missed it, here is the video of director, Louie Psihoyos live on VH1 accepting the award for best documentary! This past Friday, January 15th "The Cove" was honored with the Best Documentary Feature Award from the Broadcast Film Critics Association at the 15th Annual Critics Choice Awards. We are very proud to have been presented with this honor and glad to see that we have continued support from the film community as well as all of our fans.

The Cove Screens in the West Indies

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

My family and I used to live in Antigua. Here is one of a number of islands in the Eastern Caribbean that sells its whaling votes to Japan so that at the IWC, there is the illusion that killing endangered animals in an International Marine Sanctuary is OK.

We've shown The Cove here on the island twice this past week to packed houses, once at the local museum in St. John's and once at a private screening of a locally celebrated architect and artist wife. At both screenings, everyone cheered when it was announced that Dominica withdrew it's support of Japan. This tells me that once The Cove is shown widely, the winds of change may be blowing in for Antiguans who overwhelmingly are against support of Japan at the IWC. A few years ago, an informal survey showed about 3,000 signatures against Antigua's support of Japan and a mere 8 for supporting them. One of the environmental ministers told me at an IWC meeting a few years ago that Antiguans weren't intelligent enough to make decisions regarding their whaling vote. That same minister couldn't name one cetacean that swam in Antiguan waters.  

The local screenings of The Cove was big news here, we made the television morning show, both local newspapers, and a local radio station. There were some interesting interviews.
The Cove film will be broadcast on television across the Caribbean later this the year and I'm looking forward to seeing the impact the movie has on the islands. This island really is one of the most beautiful places in the world but their reputation is in shambles as a tourist destination because of their support of whaling. We hope to change that very soon, one screening of The Cove at a time...

All the best in the New Year,


IKEA, for The Cove

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Back in October, The Cove was awarded the IKEA Green Prize at the Rome International Film Festival. The Prize represents one of IKEA’s activities during the festival aimed at encouraging audience members to become consumers with a greater awareness for natural resources, promoting new, more environmentally sustainable lifestyles.

OPS supports these ideas, and were honored that IKEA is using The Cove as inspiration for a special edition cover of their classic "Klippan" sofa.

Here's a statement from the Jury on why The Cove was chosen for this award:

“for re-writing the documentary genre, transforming it into a cleverly edited film that packs an emotional punch with fast-paced action, scientific analysis and a story of personal redemption. The use of thermal camera shots, meta-language, video-reality and archive footage means this work transcends the glossy image of the natural history documentary. The original, hitherto unexplored theme informs us about a horror perpetrated in a bay in Japan that has repercussions around the world, a global horror that lays bare the cultural consumerism behind live animal shows, coupled with issues surrounding food safety and governmental corruption in the war to control the seas. We left the cinema with the feeling we could do something to dismantle all the bays of horror. Taking on the mantle of responsibility, we shout: No More Coves”

The Cove wins NBR Best Doc Award

Thursday, December 03, 2009

The National Board of Review just announced its 2009 winners, The Cove was named Best Documentary.
This is enormous. The illustrious group has been recognizing film for a century, almost as long as the art form has been around. Consistent with NBR's lofty goal of getting the medium out to audiences of the world, The Cove filmmakers hope to get the film viewed in Japan, where audiences would have the most effect on policy.
From NBR's site:
Originally founded as an anti-censorship organization, protesting New York City Mayor George B. McClellan, Jr.’s revocation of moving picture exhibition licenses on Christmas Eve 1908. The mayor believed that the new medium downgraded the morals of the community. To assert their constitutional freedom of expression, theater owners led by Marcus Loew and the top film distributors of the day – Edison, Biograph, Pathe and Gaumont – joined John Collier (later the U.S. Commissioner for Indian Affairs) of the People’s Institute at Cooper Union and established a National Review committee that endorsed films of merit and championed the new “art of the people,” which was transforming America’s – and soon the world’s -- cultural life.