5TH LD: Screening of documentary 'The Cove' starts in Japan
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TOKYO, Jul. 3, 2010 (Kyodo News International) --

The Oscar-winning U.S. documentary ''The Cove'' about a controversial dolphin hunt in a western Japanese town ended its opening day screening at six theaters in Japan on Saturday, without major disruptions despite protests that caused earlier screenings to be canceled.

With police officers patrolling around the theaters in Hachinohe, Sendai, Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto and Osaka, no major turmoil has been reported so far.

In Tokyo's Shibuya Ward, Theatre Image Forum said all three screenings for the day were full. ''We are relieved that we could run the screenings without incident,'' the 108-seat theater said in a released statement.

In Yokohama city, seven people who appeared to be right-wing group members gathered in front of Yokohama New Theatre and protested against the showing. A 48-year-old man who claims to be a key member of the group said, ''Its content is anti-Japanese and tramples Japanese culinary culture.''

While around 10 police officers were on watch near the theater, three civic group members were showing a sign that read, ''It's quite all right to show The Cove.''

The film opened at 10 a.m., drawing roughly 50 spectators. ''I just wanted to watch this film before giving a thought to the controversy over it,'' a 64-year-old woman said.

A 57-year-old man said he does not oppose dolphin hunts but came to the Yokohama theater to watch the movie ''fraught with various problems.''

Eighteen other cinemas in 16 prefectures plan to screen the film in the days to come.

A 24-year-old graduate school student from Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, said after watching the film in Yokohama, ''It was really cruel to see the seawater run so red with the dolphins' blood, and I could become aware of what I had not known. The film will provide opportunities to consider right and wrong of dolphin hunting.''

He added, however, ''I thought it focuses only on what its producers wanted to say, while paying less attention to fishermen's views.''

The film, which shows the traditional dolphin hunt in Taiji, Wakayama Prefecture, was originally scheduled to be screened at 26 theaters across Japan starting June 26.

But it has drawn criticism from some Japanese groups claiming it is anti-Japanese. They have intimidated theaters that planned to show the film and led three of the theaters in Tokyo and Osaka to cancel screenings.

According to its Japanese distributor, Unplugged Inc., four of the six theaters showing the film on Saturday were targets of street protests or were intimidated. Of the four, two in Tokyo and Yokohama successfully applied for a court injunction against civic groups staging protests around the theaters.

The people of Taiji have also objected to the documentary, which was mostly shot in the town with hidden cameras. They claim the film is based on wrong information and infringes on individual rights because the people were filmed without permission.

Taiji Mayor Kazutaka Sangen said Saturday he is disappointed that the film is finally being shown.

''I understand there should be freedom of expression but at the same time you have to think about the rights of the fishermen and the rules (for film production),'' Sangen said in a telephone interview with Kyodo News.

An official of the Taiji fisheries union voiced concern that showing the film could spread misunderstanding about dolphin hunts, but added that the union hopes audiences will get an ''exact understanding'' of what actually takes place in the town.

''Our union doesn't have enough money and manpower to take action against the film...we're just living ordinary lives,'' another union member said. ''It feels Taiji is being rocked by a powerful film and powerful groups of people.''

To deal with such criticism, the distributor said it has shaded the images of the local people and added information and expressions with subtitles to avoid misunderstanding.

The film won the 2010 Academy Award for best documentary.

Prior to the start of screening in Japan, the Directors Guild of Japan issued a statement Friday protesting any moves to make the theaters stop showing the film.

''Such moves would limit opportunities to express one's thoughts and beliefs, which are essential elements of democracy, and as a result lead to a loss of freedom of expression,'' the statement said.

In Japan, similar pressure from right-wing groups and allegations by some lawmakers as well as critics that the film is anti-Japanese had caused cancellation of screenings in 2008 of the controversial documentary film ''YASUKUNI'' the film by Chinese director Li Ying.

The film depicts events and people connected to Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine, which is regarded as a symbol of Japan's past militarism by neighboring countries since it honors the nation's war dead and Class-A war criminals.



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