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Tokyo screenings of dolphin film cancelled after threats

A Japanese film distributor said Friday that no Tokyo theatres would be screening an Oscar-winning documentary about dolphin slaughter in Japan due to protests by right-wing groups.

Unplugged Inc. said it had cancelled a screening of "The Cove" scheduled for June 26 at a theatre in Tokyo after Japanese right-wingers - known for ear-splitting street protests using loud megaphones - targeted the cinema.

The distributor later confirmed that two more theatres, one in Tokyo and the other in Osaka, had cancelled screenings, meaning no Tokyo theatre is expected to screen the film.

"The Cove" depicts fishermen's annual dolphin hunt in the southern Japanese town of Taiji and won the Academy Award for best documentary in March.

The film, featuring graphic footage of the sea mammals being harpooned to death, angered local fishermen, who say dolphin hunting is part of their culture and slammed the covert techniques employed by the makers.

The distributor said cinema staff had suffered harassment, but insisted it would go ahead with screenings at 23 other theatres nationwide while looking for alternative venues in Tokyo.

"'The Cove' is hardly an anti-Japanese movie. We believe that it's necessary to have a deep and healthy debate about the film's content," Unplugged chief executive Takeshi Kato said.

At the Oscar ceremony, director Louie Psihoyos denied his movie was guilty of "Japan-bashing" and said it was meant as a public health warning to Japanese who are sold dolphin meat contaminated by mercury.

In 2008 the threat of right-wing violence forced several cinemas in Tokyo to cancel plans to show a film about the controversial Yasukuni war shrine, and the distributor delayed the premiere by several weeks.