The Cove Documentary: Crimson Water


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From training dolphins for the famous American TV Series, Flipper, to now being an activist for these mammals, Ric O’Barry has been playing a major role in trying to uncover a dirty secret that is performed by the Japanese fishermen. “The Cove”, an Oscar-winning documentary, directed by Louie Psihoyos shows the motives and passion that O’Barry had going into filming the truth on how dolphins were being captured and slaughtered in the city of Taiji. The film was made to be an “entertaining film that also tries to enlighten everybody” (Milman) about the dolphin hunting that was so covered by the government that even their own people had no idea what was happening in their waters. “The Cove” is filled with breath-holding suspenseful music, gruesome up-close scenes, and passionate activists, that entirely circle around the plan to uncover the killings of these mammals to spread awareness without being captured first by the Japanese police.

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The First Audience

The film took place in Taiji, Japan where dolphin-shaped buses, signs, toys, and infrastructure filled the entire place, creating the illusion that the people here loved the dolphins. When the cast tried to stop the fisherman and asked why they killed dolphins, they say that it was a tradition for the people that lived there. However, when the casts went to the streets to interview people and asked about their traditions, the only reactions that were received and shown on their faces were only of shock and disbelief. This closeup interview scene represents the first audience that this issue has been introduced even without the film’s release which helps promote the cause and proves that it doesn’t have only the casts’ support, but also the people of Japan, to reveal this atrocity to the world.

Catching the Slaughterings

The cruel methods used during dolphin hunting is considered mentally torturous, due to the high sensitivity sonars that dolphins have. In order to capture and lure them to a certain area, which is a cove in Taiji that is covered by high cliffs on three sides, makes it the best place to kill these creatures without the view of the public, the fishermen use poles and hammers. By beating them together, the vibrations from the pole vibrate in the water, distressing the dolphins and causing them to frightening swim away from it. This tactic is highly useful but extremely harmful to the mental health of the dolphins, as they then spend the entire night in the cove with little space to swim around in. These actions were caught on footage by using drones that flew over the waters during the day, however, once night hits, drones are no longer an option. The majority of the film is focused on how to catch these slaughterings to use as proof for the public and scenes of camera making and camouflaging technology was displayed to show the work the cast did to promote this cause.

In order to obtain the day of slaughter and what exactly was going to happen, the team snuck in during the night and placed expert-made high definition cameras camouflaged as huge rocks as well as underwater cameras to capture the events that were going to occur next morning. During this scene, the capturing cameras switched from one to another, showing the different angles of how the killing took place, Soon the audience could see that the entire cove’s water turned red with blood as the injured flailing dolphins struggled to breathe. This scene was first portrayed by the underwater camera as you see the color of the water turn from blue to red in a split second. This created a moment of horror as you see the water turn red and where once dolphins chirped at each other, grow silent and calm, as the waters prepared themselves to take the next day’s capture.

The Change of Opinion

The usage of pathos is shown in many parts of the film. In one of the scenes, it showed the capture, transportation, and training towards a group of dolphins that would later star for the show Flipper. These dolphins were all trained under Ric O’Barry who said, “I spend 10 years building this industry and spend 35 years trying to tear it down.” From the film, interactions between the dolphins and O’Barry were shown, which had a negative effect as the main cast was showing that he himself had participated in the capturing and holding of dolphins for human entertainment. O’Barry later states the guilt he held within him when he explained the suicidal action that Kathy, a dolphin, did when she went in his arms. This created sympathy and remorse from viewers as the narrative was going on, a scene of a deceased dolphin rolling over onto its belly was playing, choreographing with the voice. “I spent ten years building, and the next 35 trying to tear down,” O’Barry says this to express his own fault for not realizing soon enough what he was doing, which was helping to build up this dolphin amusement industry where wild dolphins from Taiji are being captured, sold to amusement parks, and then slaughtered for their meat. This creates an ironic emphasize on the film because here O’Barry is trying to stop the cycle of capturing dolphins that he had helped grow. He had realized during the times of his training with the dolphins for the show, they showed him that they were sensitive intelligent creatures that understood what was going on around them.

Informing the Audience

Documentaries are usually used to teach and inform its audience of a major issue, however, the way “The Cove” was written and filmed, it was more to inform but to express the propaganda movement from Taiji. In the film, scenes of people buying meat and children eating dolphin meat in their school lunch were displayed to show how much of an influence this “movement” was to the Japanese economy. However, the government did not inform the public of the high concentration of mercury that exists in dolphin meat, which will cause many neurological and behavioral disorders. When the cast told this to two Japenese councilmen, they were instantly emotional that they have been allowing this meat to be fed to their children that were in school. This scene also showed rallied support from just not the cast but the higher-ups of Japan as well.

The Corruption of Government

Another reason that the Taiji fisherman used to support their cause was that they need to control the number of dolphins, or “pest control”. They express this by showing footage of the IWC (International Whaling Committee) meetings that showed the agreement of other countries that approved of this “pest control”. However, the filmmakers took it a step ahead to find out why these countries would agree to these monstrous actions and found out the reason as to how allies are made; money and recognition. During the uncovering of these secrets, videos of the whaling areas in the countries that supported Japan showed low fishing activity and instead of whaling industries as they said during the IWC meetings, the only thing that was plentiful was the poultry running around. This shows the corruption of government trying to prove their point and continue their practices; through the usage of power and money, as in return for their vote, they get a seat on the committee and a voice on an international issue.

Just as O’Barry obtained the footage of the slaughtering of the dolphins from the hidden cameras, he snuck into the IWC conference with the video of the bloody red blood and bleeding dolphins strapped to his body and stood in front of the entire committee to show what was actually going on. The filmmaker included this part because it showed the first step of standing for what’s right and to raise awareness for a wealthy industry that is widely known and participating in unethical movements to gain their assets.

The Audio

The audio of the film is very important and crucial to the buildup of the issue that is being broadcasted. “The Cove” can be broken down into three different audio parts that make up the whole film; narration, actual footage, and dialogue. During the narrator’s storytelling, there will either be sinister or calm music playing in the background supporting the storyline and helping to express the mood of the events occurring. Also as interviewers spoke during the film, the music would go along as well with their speech. If it was a serious conversation or question that was being asked, the silence or low music would immediately start playing, helping to represent the mood of that particular scene. However, during moments of actual footage, you can hear all the background audio that the footage has which makes it more realistic to the audience, and in turn, makes it better for them to believe.

A scene that caused the most emotional trauma were the ones that the hidden cameras captured starting from the morning of the slaughtering the cove. Starting from that scene, the clicking and the vocals from the dolphins amplified off the film audio filling it entirely up from the start of the killing to the silence after, when only bloody red water can be heard and seen from a far distance. These actual live footage sounds show the truely horrifying actions of these ruthless Taiji fishermen, that kill these beautiful sensitive creatures so brutally just for their meat and to make a profit. The usage of these sounds, live footage, and people will make this documentary an unforgettable film and hopefully a call for action to all people so that the waters of Taiji shall never turn red again.

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