Oscar-nominated "Cove" to get Japan screening

TOKYO Thu Mar 4, 2010 5:52pm EST

A wild dolphin swims in the ocean near Mikura island, 200km south of Tokyo, August 3, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

A wild dolphin swims in the ocean near Mikura island, 200km south of Tokyo, August 3, 2008 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Yuriko Nakao

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TOKYO (Reuters) - An Oscar-nominated documentary on the grisly business of dolphin hunting in Japan is set to be screened at cinemas nationwide for the first time later this year, but with some modifications, its distributor said.

"The Cove," which has been shown in 15 countries and already won several awards, follows a group of activists who struggle with Japanese police and fishermen to gain access to a secluded cove in Taiji, southern Japan, where dolphins are hunted. It features shocking footage of the slaughter.

The film is little known in Japan, where the government says the hunting of dolphins and whales is an important cultural tradition.

"It's about Japan, but this has been the only place where it couldn't be seen," Takeshi Kato of distribution company Unplugged said on Thursday, just ahead of Sunday's Academy Awards ceremony.

Kato has arranged for the film to be shown at five cinemas in major Japanese cities in May or June and hopes to expand the number to about 20.

"They are not dolphin protectionists, nor are they on the side of the hunt," he said of the cinemas that have chosen to show the film. "They want to show it without taking sides."

After receiving complaints from Taiji, Kato is in the process of altering the film for the Japanese market. He has agreed to blur the faces of the fishermen and add a note about disagreement over mercury levels in dolphin meat, which is sold as food and served for lunch at schools in the area.

Taiji's association of fishermen declined to comment on the movie's screening and no one was available to comment at the local government office.

The town's mayor has, however, said in the past that the film will not affect the tradition of dolphin hunting.

The documentary was shown at the Tokyo International Film Festival last year, but a university in Tokyo abandoned a planned screening of the film this month after objections from Taiji, the Sankei newspaper said on Wednesday.

Directed by former National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos and featuring a former dolphin trainer from the "Flipper" television series, the film could be shown more widely if it picks up an Oscar, Kato said.

It has been nominated for the prize for best documentary feature.

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