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.
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. http://www.aafes.com/ems/pac/yokota.htm
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.
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, www.thecovemovie.com/japan
. 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,
Director of the Oceanic Preservation Society