‘A Whale of a Tale’ Explores the Controversial Whaling Industry of Taiji, Japan

Directed by Megumi Sasaki, ‘A Whale of a Tale’ follows an American journalist as he explores the traditions and culture of the whaling industry in Taiji, Japan, a town that has become a site for protest and debate due to its whaling,which American activists have deemed inhumane. (JRL: 4/5)

‘A Whale of a Tale’ Explores the Controversial Whaling Industry of Taiji, Japan

‘A Whale of a Tale’ is a case-study of Taiji, Japan, a town defined by its whaling industry. The film follows American Journalist Jay Alabaster, who has lived in Japan for fifteen years, as he explores the town’s tradition of hunting dolphins (which the Japanese call “whales”) for meat. This tradition is centuries old, but increasingly environmentally-conscious activist groups from America are now attempting to dismantle it.

Activists argue that whale-hunting in Taiji is immoral because of its negative impact on the environment and because of the whales’ high levels of intelligence, but residents of Taiji retaliate with the fact that whaling is an important part of Taiji’s culture and represents an important tradition. Fundamental ideological differences between Americans and Japanese people become obvious as the two countries attempt to reconcile radically different beliefs in order to end this long and heated conflict.

‘A Whale of a Tale’ provides honest and respectful insight into both sides of the argument, unlike its predecessor ‘The Cove’, which solely attacks Taiji for killing whales. Contrarily, ‘Whale of a Tale’ humanizes the people of Taiji and shows their ernest and understandable reasons for keeping the industry alive.

‘A Whale of a Tale’ provides the opportunity to compare Japanese and American culture through the lens of Taiji and its whaling industry. While Americans value radical social change and movement, Japanese people emphasize the importance of preserving culture and tradition. Neither set of values is inherently right or wrong, but they each have vast impacts on their people that are palatable in this film. One particularly striking display of these stark differences is when an older Japanese man sternly teaches a lesson on bowing to a young American man who stands before him, soaking wet from jumping in the ocean in protest of whaling. I found this aspect of the film incredibly interesting, especially as these conflicts in ideology are highlighted through the issue of whale-hunting.

The film also provides really interesting insight into Taiji’s culture and people. It’s filled with footage of Taiji’s residents working and going about their daily lives and provides information on Taiji’s history and traditions. One of my favorite moments is the endearing footage taken inside an elementary school, where giggling students eat whale together and talk about their parents’ occupations as whalers.

If I had to give a critique, it would be that the film needs more lighter moments like the scene in the elementary school. The film’s discussion of whale-killing and fiery cross-cultural debates can be intense. Of course, the topic of the film is intense so the film matches, but I think at least a few more moments of humor and comradery would make it more palatable and enjoyable.

‘Whale of a Tale’ explores a variety of issues like culture, media, and protest in Japanese vs. American cultures through the lens of Taiji. Not only does it bring light to the complex issue of whaling, but it’s a fascinating case study of what happens when these two cultures clash. 

Q: Does A Whale of a Tale pass the Bechdel-Wallace test?

A: Yes. There are a few interviews with women on the topic of Taiji and its whales.

Photos Courtesy of Elephant House

© Julia Lasker FF2 Media (1/22/19)

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