Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Liyoon - Japanese Killer Whale

I can't believe I haven't heard about this already.  Apparently released about five months ago, this is in some ways a predictable Japanese "national pride" perspective on the discussion over whaling/dolphin hunts that's still boiling well after the release of The Cove.  But there are several weird/interesting twists, some of which will be obvious immediately:

It makes a lot of sense that this is in English, since the essential message is about the hypocrisy and even racism of the Western anti-whaling position.  The most convincing point made, as far as I'm concerned, is that pigs, like dolphins, are pretty smart animals, but the West eats tons of them anyway (actually, so does Japan, but I think the point still stands).

The really interesting part, and a vital reminder of the vastly different Japanese political landscape, is that Liyoon is Zainichi - a Japanese-born Korean.  He used to belong to a group called KP, which stood for "Korean Pride."  From an American perspective, it's odd to think about an ethnic minority pushing such an overtly nationalist (or at the very least, patriotic) viewpoint, but the dominance of American influence in Japanese politics and culture changes the math radically.  At some moments it makes sense to identify as Zainichi against a Yamato ethnic mainstream, but at least as often someone like Liyoon is going to encounter threats to the "Japanese" side of his identity, and feel the need to rise to their defense.

That reactive/defensive stance seems omnipresent - in fact, it pretty much explains the whole whale situation.  Most Japanese don't actually eat whale meat, but many nonetheless support the hunt because it has a symbolic power even if they're not participating in it.  It represents their ability to defy the West, and specifically America (home of the Sea Shepard), at least in some relatively small way.  If that element of defiance wasn't important, it's pretty clear most Japanese, at the very least, wouldn't care about whale hunting one way or the other.

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