J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Behind “The Cove”—A Rebuttal of Sorts

Taiji in Japan’s Wakayama Prefecture is a picturesque coastal village, filled with shrines and nautical museums. It is hard to imagine going there with the express intention of acting belligerent and aggressive, but people do. Their motivations are simple: money and self-righteousness. Ever since the release of Louie Psihoyos’ Oscar-winning documentary, The Cove (the one about the dolphin drive hunt), the village of approximately 3,500 people has been over-run with environmental activists looking to make a name for themselves and keep their donors’ funding flowing. It has become an ugly scene that ought to be exposed for the world to judge. Unfortunately, something apparently gets lost in the translation for Keiko Yagi’s scattershot rebuttal documentary, Behind “The Cove:” The Quiet Japanese Speak Out (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

The word “disorganized” does not even begin to describe the case Yagi haphazardly lays out. By far, the most compelling revelations concern the behavior of the throngs of environmental protesters, particularly that of the explicitly confrontational Sea Shephard. Yagi captures footage of them clearly trying to intimidate villagers, but their casual disrespect for holy shrines is perhaps even more problematic. This is the sort of material that would really make their supporters squirm, if it were presented in a more structured manner.

Fortunately, she strikes pay dirt with her interview of Simon Wearne of Wakayama University, who happened to be a cameraman on Animal Planet’s Whale Wars I. Wearne cautions viewers not to take the show as gospel, because he knows what footage did not survive the editing war. He also puts the Japanese whaling industry in perspective, explaining how it was always sustainable. It was just wasteful western whaling that ruined it for the rest of the world.

It is frustrating to see legitimate insights get buried under mountains of baffling non-sequiturs. Frankly, Yagi’s lack of political sophistication is downright face-palm worthy. She constantly levels charges of hypocrisy against western environmental groups, using policies of the American government as ammunition, but you would be hard-pressed to find a more virulently anti-American subset than eco-terrorists. Clearly, the Sea Shepherd protester’s “Thanks, but no Yanks” t-shirt was lost on her.

Yagi’s strategy of highlighting American historical outrages reaches the level of self-parody when she lets a crank protesting outside the White House rage against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Pearl Harbor was no big deal he argues, because America was already actively working to undermine Japan’s dominance in the Pacific. Yes, but if he wants to play that game, most historians would argue we should have been even more proactive countering Imperial Japan, given the war crimes that were perpetrated during “The Rape of Nanking” and the incendiary bombing of Chongqing (three years before Pearl Harbor).

How ludicrous is it that a documentary intended to fisk The Cove ends up re-litigating the War in the Pacific? There is a fair amount of material in Behind that could embarrass the anti-whaling syndicate if it were effectively marshaled, but Yagi lets it die on the vine. It is almost tragic, because the beleaguered good people of Taiji deserve a better defense. For now, this is what they have. Good luck to it when Behind “The Cove” opens tomorrow (11/25) in New York, at the Cinema Village.

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