Ric O'Barry, 70, whose efforts to save dolphins is documented...

Ric O'Barry, 70, whose efforts to save dolphins is documented in the Oscar-winning film "The Cove," during an interview with The Associated Press in Tokyo. (June 15, 2010) Credit: AP

Japanese theaters will start showing “The Cove,” an Oscar-winning film about a dolphin-hunting village in Japan, next month despite pressure from nationalist groups who say the film is anti-Japanese.

The domestic distributor, Unplugged, said Monday that six theaters around the country will start showing the movie July 3, with 16 more to screen it later.

Initial screenings of the film at three other theaters were canceled after protests by nationalist groups. Those theaters still have no plans to show “The Cove,” which shows bloody scenes of a dolphin slaughter filmed by hidden cameras and portrays local fishermen as rough goons.

The cancellations prompted a group of Japanese journalists, academics and film directors to sign a letter urging the theaters not to back down, saying the issue “underlines the weakness of freedom of speech in Japan.”

Nationalist groups, known for blasting slogans from truck convoys and handheld loudspeakers, often use the threat of protests as leverage. Two years ago, angry phone calls led several theaters to cancel showings of “Yasukuni,” a movie about a Japanese war shrine that honors fallen soldiers, including executed military leaders convicted as war criminals.

The film, which stars Ric O’Barry, a former trainer for the “Flipper” TV show, was banned on a U.S. military base in Japan as too controversial. It won the Oscar for best documentary.

In Taiji, the small village where the hunt occurs, the local government and fishing cooperative defend dolphin hunting as a local custom with a long history. The mostly bottlenose dolphins killed in the hunt are not endangered, and hunts are also carried out in other parts of Japan — although very few Japanese have ever eaten dolphin meat.

In the version of “The Cove” intended for release in Japan, disclaimers have been added saying those interviewed in the movie are not protesting or supporting dolphin issues. Unlike the U.S. version, the faces of most Japanese are blurred out.

A message on the Japanese version states that data presented in the movie were gathered by and are the responsibility of the film’s creators. The movie cites information about mercury levels in dolphins and falsely labeled dolphin meat that has been  challenged by government officials.

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