Surprise: The Documentary That Defends Japanese Whaling Is an Amateurish Mess


Like so many of the first wave of right-wing Michael Moore–response docs (Celsius 41.11, Michael and Me, WMD…I’ve seen them all so you don’t have to), Japan’s answer to the Oscar-winning, 2009 anti-dolphin-hunting documentary The Cove is driven more by agenda than much discernible skill in the areas of camera, editing, storytelling, or interview technique.

Probably about a quarter of the film’s runtime is screenshots of web browsers, which is apt, as this is essentially a Condescending Wonka meme taken to feature length. You can practically see the repurposed corpse of Gene Wilder sneering, “Oh, you’re opposed to whaling? Tell me again how you’ve never eaten meat or worn leather in your life.”

The movie is not without some appeal, mainly due to the fact that the whaling town of Taiji is beautiful to look at, and principals from the original The Cove, Louie Psihoyos and Ric O’Barry, gamely give interviews to explain that of course they want to hear both sides.

First-time director Keiko Yagi says in her own press kit that her inspiration for making this is that she likes eating whale and misses it; she proceeds to argue that the world is being brainwashed against Japan by racism, culture bias, food hypocrisy and, best of all, an elaborate psy op started by Richard Nixon to distract from the Vietnam War. She makes her best point by accident, though: In interviews with locals, we hear them rail against international treaties and overly diplomatic politicians, as they long for Japan to be made great again. It’s an echo of Trumpism and Brexit that’s frightening to hear.

Behind the Cove
Directed by Keiko Yagi
Opens November 25, Cinema Village