The issue of commercial whaling in Japan remains a contentious issue, as animal rights activists engage cultural traditionalists on the historical roots of this practice and its contemporary relevance. For this event the documentary filmmaker Megumi Sasaki will screen excerpts from her film “A Whale of a Tale,” and discuss the controversies surrounding this topic.
About the film “A Whale of a Tale”:
Can a small town with a proud 400-year-old whaling tradition survive a tsunami of modern environmental activism? The camera delves into the lives of local whalers, global activists and an American journalist in the “whale and dolphin killing town” of Taiji, Japan, revealing not everything is as black and white as it seems.
In 2010, Taiji, a sleepy fishing town in southern Japan, suddenly wakes up in the global spotlight. A documentary film called The Cove, which denounces the town’s longstanding whale and dolphin hunting practices, has just won an Academy Award. Almost overnight, the town of Taiji has morphed into a battleground as the go-to destination for international activists.
Jay Alabaster, a Tokyo-based Associated Press journalist and twenty-year Japan resident, is sent to Taiji to cover the controversy. He is warned by his boss to “be careful in the dangerous town”, which triggers the sense that something is not quite right with media reports surrounding Taiji.
As the fall hunting season begins, anti-whale and dolphin hunting activists arrive from abroad with binoculars and cameras in hand. Their mission: To expose the “atrocities” committed in Taiji via the web.
Every time dolphins are captured in the hunt, tension in the cove grows. Activists yell and thrust cameras in whalers’ faces. Local police and the Coast Guard stand by. Camera crews arrive in droves. A Japanese nationalist van harasses activists over a loudspeaker.
For the local whalers, hunting is their livelihood, pride and identity. Catching whales and dolphins – as they do other fish – has allowed them to feed their families and support the town’s economy.
The activists fight back, saying the whales and dolphins are not fish, but intelligent mammals deserving special protection on a global scale. Hunting and eating them is barbaric, and selling them to aquariums is comparable to a slave trade.
Will Taiji survive under global pressure? Following the town’s fate for six years, A WHALE OF A TALE tells a story not yet heard in the global controversy of whale and dolphin hunting. Through the point-of-view of an American journalist, the film unearths a deep divide in eastern and western thought about nature and wildlife, raising questions about cultural sensitivity in the face of global activism.
Filmmaker Megumi Sasaki directed and produced her first feature-length documentary film HERB & DOROTHY (2008) about legendary New York art collectors Herb and Dorothy Vogel, winning top honors at the Hamptons International Film Festival, Philadelphia Film Festival, SILVERDOCS, and among others. The film was selected for a season’s opener for PBS’s Independent Lens series in 2009, and was voted #1 by the Huffington Post for “10 Documentaries About Artists in Love You Need to Watch”.
In 2013, Megumi completed the highly anticipated follow-up documentary to HERB & DOROTHY titled HERB & DOROTHY 50X50, focusing on the next (and final) chapter in the lives of Herb and Dorothy Vogel. The film had a nationwide theatrical release in US and Japan in 2013 and continues to screen in theaters, museums and art fairs around the globe.
Her third feature length documentary A WHALE OF A TALE sets a camera in a small fishing town of Taiji, Japan that was featured in the Oscar winning film, The Cove. The film had a world premiere at the Busan International Film Festival and selected for the feature documentary competition in October 2016 and opens in theaters in Japan in September 2017.
Prior to becoming a filmmaker, Sasaki was an anchor, reporter, and news director for NHK Television, Japan’s public broadcasting network. She lives in NYC since 1987.