DolphinsThe Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove is causing a stir in Japan and raising issues of free speech. The film, which documents the horrific slaughter of thousand of dolphins in the Japanese village of Taiji, has angered the nation’s extreme right-wing fringe. According to the Associated Press, “Three theaters last week canceled showings of the movie after they were swamped with angry phone calls and threatened with noisy protests by nationalist groups. It was banned on a U.S. military base in Japan as too controversial, and 23 other theaters are still deciding whether to show the film.”

Like nutty nationalists everywhere, Japan’s right-wingers combine thuggish bravado with simpering oversensitivity. On one hand, per the AP, “they are known for blasting slogans from truck convoys and handheld loudspeakers.” And the Guardian notes there have been threats of “acts of sabotage” if The Cove is shown in theaters. Yet these tough aspiring terrorists portray their weird touchiness when stating why they are so incensed by this film: “The work intentionally distorts Japanese people’s food culture, and showing this will hurt many people’s feelings,” said one of the protest groups, Shuken Kaifuku wo Mezasu Kai, aka the Society to Seek the Restoration of Sovereignty.

Incidentally, Shuken Kaifuku wo Mezasu Kai’s agenda extends beyond attempts to stifle free speech. In 2008, they formally denounced laws against domestic violence, writing “Instances of ‘violence’ that aren’t serious in nature, but basic and isolated, are natural among married couples … The idea of ‘eliminating spousal violence’ is a display of radical feminism.” They have also demonstrated against schools teaching Japanese students about the countless Korean “comfort women” forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Army during World War II.

Many Japanese justifiably resent a bunch of radical nationalists dictating what can be shown in theaters. According to the Mainichi Daily News, fifty-five people, including journalists and filmmakers, “jointly criticized moves at Japanese movie theaters to cancel their planned screenings of Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, saying the cancellations are threatening freedom of expression.” In a joint statement, the fifty-five said, “Freedom of speech and expression can be realized only when places for making them are secured … We strongly hope and support cinemas to stand firm in defense of their positions to protect venues for such expression.” Director Tatsuya Mori observed, “Michael Moore’s movies, Avatar, and many other movies are anti-American, but cinemas would never cancel screenings in the U.S. … I hope Japanese also believe in making controversial matters open to discussion.” Even ultra-conservative Kunio Suzuki, adviser to the rightist group Issuikai, said, “Not letting people see the movie is anti-Japanese.”

Despite the furor, some Japanese are managing to see The Cove. A sold-out showing at a Tokyo conference hall drew about 600 people. And in the age of DVDs and online video, there is really no way to prevent the people of Japan from seeing this film.

Besides the fact The Cove may “hurt many people’s feelings,” why should the Japanese far-right care about their fellow citizens seeing this documentary? If, as the nationalists believe, there is nothing wrong with viciously slaughtering and butchering countless innocent dolphins, then why is it wrong to film and show the massacre? If the killing is nothing to be ashamed of, then why not broadcast it for the world to see? And if The Cove is somehow anti-Japanese (which it isn’t), then what’s the big deal of letting Japanese see it? Are they going to become racist against themselves?

These are the types of questions that should be asked in a free, democratic, and open society. Of course, ultra-nationalists such as the Shuken Kaifuku wo Mezasu Kai have no interest in a free, democratic, and open society, which is why they are so willing to use threats and intimidation to suppress a movie that hurts their oh-so-tender feelings.

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