(OSAKA, JAPAN) — Japanese theater owners are surprised by the public turnout to ‘The Cove,’ especially after all the bally-hoo from some extreme rightwing nationalists who claimed the film about the annual dolphin slaughter was an attack on Japan’s honor. The sold-out showings suggest that free speech wins the day and many Japanese feel equipped to make up their own minds. — Global Animal

Yomiuri Shimbun, Michiko Nakai

(OSAKA, JAPAN)–Attendance figures have been consistently strong for “The Cove,” a critical portrayal of the dolphin fishing industry of Taijicho, Wakayama Prefecture, since it began screening at cinemas in Japan more than three weeks ago.

Although police officers were sent to some movie theaters on the film’s opening day in anticipation of possible violence by protesters, the hubbub quickly subsided.

The popularity of “The Cove,” which won the Best Documentary prize at this year’s Academy Awards, has led to additional theaters showing the film and others extending its run.

Atsushi Matsumura, manager of No. 7 Geijutsu Gekijo theater in Yodogawa Ward, Osaka, said he has been surprised by the film’s success, with screenings selling out every weekend.

“We’re going to extend its screening run to the middle of August,” he said.

Loudspeaker protests accusing the film of being “anti-Japanese” took place in various locations around the country prior to its release to theaters on July 3. Some theaters canceled scheduled screenings for fear of provoking trouble.

No such protests have taken place since the opening day, however.

As with Geijutsu Gekijo, weekend screenings at Theater Image Forum in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, have consistently sold out.

Attendance at the two theaters for all screenings during the first week of showing averaged 86 percent capacity.

The Cove” has been picked up by 10 additional theaters–including venues in Nagaoka, Niigata Prefecture; Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture; and Onomichi, Hiroshima Prefecture–since its initial release by 25 theaters.

Since the protests subsided, more attention has been focused on the actual content of the documentary.

Film magazine Kinema Junpo featured “The Cove” in an issue published in late July, and the July 6 edition of “Close-up Gendai,” a talk program on NHK TV, discussed aspects of the documentary’s production, including its use of surreptitious filming.

The film has not generated in-depth public discussion of the practice of dolphin fishing itself, however, and there has been no dialogue between the main stakeholders in the controversy.

Local fishermen in Taijicho, on whose occupation the film is focused, have refused to take part in public events discussing the issues raised in the film. They have objected strongly to the film, saying its presentation of information is biased.

Louis Psihoyos, director of “The Cove,” is on record as saying he hopes next time he visits Japan there will be an understanding that the film’s goal is to help “both dolphins and humans.”

Takeharu Watai, an independent journalist, believes all sides should come together for talks.

“Given that ‘The Cove’ does raise what I believe are important questions about dolphin fishing, I’d like to see the people responsible for its production and the mass media work together to create a forum for discussions with Taijicho locals and Fisheries Agency officials,” he said.

An open forum held last Thursday night at Kyoto Cinema in Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, considered the question, “How should we think of ‘The Cove’?” One participant said, “I have no idea how we might try to convey the reality of dolphin fishing to the world.”

A panel discussion on dolphin fishing, featuring ethological experts and authors, is scheduled to be held in Tokyo on Friday.




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