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The activist documentary 'Behind 'The Cove'' falls short of the mark

The activist documentary 'Behind 'The Cove'' falls short of the mark
A still from the documentary "Behind the Cove," in which Sea Shepherd collides with a tanker refueling a Japanese whaling ship. (The Japanese Cetacean Research Institute)

In this era of the activist documentary, you'd think we'd have more rebuttal movies, the documentary equivalent to answer songs. Considering the shocked reaction to "The Cove," for instance -- Louis Psihoyos' Oscar-winning agitprop smash exposing mass dolphin killings in the Japanese fishing village of Taiji – a response from a country with a longstanding fishing history seemed only appropriate. Japanese filmmaker Keiko Yagi's "Behind 'The Cove'" is one such attempt, cobbling together a defense that not only attacks the movie's one-sidedness, but throws in allegations of cultural racism, interviews with aggrieved whalers and experts, complaints about rude activists descending on Taiji, and confusing deep dives into global politics.

With so much to cover, it's a regrettably amateurish effort in tone, style and pacing, as if her first cut were her final cut. It's too scattershot to be persuasive, even if occasionally it sparks thought about issues of cultural tradition, unfair international agreements, and nationalistic defensiveness. Yagi struggles when folding the questionable efforts of U.S.-based animal rights groups into her physician-heal-thyself critique of American history overall (from Commodore Perry to Vietnam to beef-eating), and while "Behind 'The Cove'" defends Japanese whaling as a cultural custom, Yagi ignores the earlier documentary's advocacy against the indefensible enslavement of dolphins for human amusement. It's anyone's guess, though, if she's trying to whet or squelch appetites with that long, loving shot of a fishmonger's pile of ruby-red whale meat.

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"Behind 'The Cove'"

In English and Japanese with English subtitles

1 hour, 45 minutes

Not rated

Playing at Laemmle Music Hall

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