Ever since 2010 when the quiet Japanese coastal town of Taiji was thrust into the spotlight due to the Oscar award winning documentary, The Cove, it became the focal point in the battle to end the hunting and capturing of whales and dolphins. It is done in other parts of the world, but because of the exposure this film got, Taiji became that place which activists would go to in an effort to end it. Now, eight years later we return to the town courtesy of director Megumi Sasaki’s (Herb & Dorothy) film, A Whale of a Tale.
With this visit we see that the issue is not as easy or clear as we once might have thought. Now, don’t get me wrong, as I am totally against the hunting and live capture of whales and dolphins, but a film like this really pounds home the fact that there is always two sides to every story. So here we get to meet the men involved in the whole whaling industry and the people who live in the town. Their side of the story is quite interesting. How they are able to revere the creatures while at the same time killing then eating them. We begin to understand how intertwined it is with the whole town. How it has been happening for hundreds of years and really is the industry they depend on for a living.
Juxtaposed against this whole rather quaint idea of making a living out of fishing is a more Western or modern world which has invaded their existence. Not taking into account the cultural and economic variables involved. Variables that are hundreds of years old. Just another example of white people coming in and telling “others” how to live. Is it truly out of worry for the planet and life living on it? The fishermen themselves make a good point by saying that those coming to protest what they are doing have no leg to stand on as they participate themselves in the slaughter of billions of animals by eating meat.
Whales and dolphins are not species that are on the endangered list. So should we be worried about the killing of them? Should we judge Japanese people (or others) for eating whale and dolphin? Is what they do more horrific than the poultry industry? Or the dairy? Issues to be thought about.
We do see via the camera lens that there are definite lines in the sand drawn by both sides. They certainly don’t like each other; that is apparent from the get go. Some of the confrontations are quite hostile and several times throughout you are holding your breath thinking it is going to get physical. It is a complicated situation.
What Sasaki’s film excels at is not being judgemental. We, as viewers, are allowed to make our own decisions about what is happening in Taiji and how we feel about whaling. No one is portrayed as the bad guys. Nor are the stereotypical “good” guys or activists all good. Some of the activists are abusive in demeanour and language plus just plain obnoxious. Everyone and every aspect of the story resides in gray.
Some have labeled the film as the Japanese rebuttal to The Cove. A rather simplistic and racist (is it due to the fact that the director is Japanese that people think this?) way of thinking of A Whale of a Tale. Just because Sasaki has given the fisherman equal screen time does not make his film slanted. It actually makes it balanced and informative rather than a piece of propaganda (Don’t read into that that I am saying that The Cove was propaganda, though it was slanted in nature.).
In the end there is a rather hopeful outlook that comes out of the film. Hopeful that change will happen. That the people of Taiji are looking towards an economy in the future based on tourism surrounding the whales and dolphins rather than the slaughter of them. Change seems to be an option. A change that will be acceptable to both sides of the issue.