Japan show 'The Cove' after protests delay

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"The Cove," an Oscar-winning film about a Japanese dolphin-hunting village, opened today around Japan after protests by angry nationalists pressured cinemas to cancel earlier showings.

Some of the six small cinemas sold out their initial shows and others were mostly empty. At Image Forum, an art theatre in Tokyo, protesters gathered briefly at the front door and blasted slogans against the film as police and journalists lined the street.

The cinemas in five other cities said they had no problems with protesters.

Last month three other cinemas cancelled planned screenings of the film after noisy protests and a telephone campaign against the movie. Nationalist groups say the US-produced film is anti-Japanese, distorts the truth, and has deep connections with a militant anti-whaling organisation.

The issue erupted into a broad debate on freedom of speech. Major newspapers condemned the cancellations in editorials, and prominent film makers, journalists and lawyers urged the theatres not to back down.

Japanese nationalist groups, known for blasting slogans from truck convoys and handheld loudspeakers, often use the threat of protests as leverage.

"The Cove," which won an Oscar in 2010 for best documentary, stars Ric O'Barry, a former trainer for the "Flipper" TV show who is now a dolphin activist. It documents how a group of filmmakers used hidden cameras to capture scenes of a dolphin slaughter in the small fishing village of Taiji.

Fishermen in the village have objected to being shown in the film without their permission. Nationalists say the film has connections to Sea Shepherd, an anti-whaling group that has been labelled a terrorist organisation by Japan's government for its militant actions against Japanese whalers.

A disclaimer has been added to the movie in Japan saying the data presented in it were gathered by and are the responsibility of the film's creators. The movie cites information about mercury levels in dolphins and falsely labelled dolphin meat that has been challenged by government officials.