Acadamy award winning film ‘The Cove’ spurs free speech debate in Japan

The Academy Award winning documentary The Cove is stirring up controversy in Japan, where several theaters, including one on an U.S. Army base, have removed it from their screens, while others decide if they should risk showing it all. Last week, three theaters pulled the film, which depicts the annual dolphin slaughter in a Japanese village, after they received a number of protests and angry phone calls from nationalist political groups. That caused 23 other theaters to reconsider showing the movie as well.

Meanwhile, a second group, consisting of journalists, filmmakers, and academics, are urging the theaters to reconsider, saying that they should show the film under the country’s constitutionally protected right to free speech. Japan upholds that right, although many of the Japanese people are reluctant to push the boundaries too much.

The Cove gained international attention last year when it exposed the yearly dolphin hunt that takes place near the small Japanese village of Taijii. The film contains scenes of the brutal killing of the porpoises, with the meat being sold into Japanese fish markets, despite the fact that it contains very high levels of mercury. A segment with interviews of common Japanese people on the street shows that most in the country is unaware of the activity at all.

The film is an important one that exposes a dark secret in Japan, but more importantly, it seems to have opened up a new debate over fundamental rights to free speech and sharing of information. But in a country where disharmony and public dissension are frowned upon, it remains to be seen what, if any, impact it’ll have on the culture there.

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