Friday, August 6, 2010

The Gatekeeper

The sky is unmercifully blue today, and Tokyo bakes beneath it.

I walk the now familiar route from Shinjuku Higashi to Shinjuku Station, to print our proposal at a Kinko’s where most of the staff speak no English, and all the software interfaces are locked in Japanese. A paradox of globalization if ever I saw one.

The drive to the whaling town is familiar. We had driven it two years earlier on a trip where I was to see for the first time a freshly killed Baird’s Beaked Whale butchered and processed.

During the drive, Hideki helps me push my Japanese language skills a little further – we recite the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac, and I compose nonsensical phrases all involving the middle of a rice field.

Malcolm lies down in the middle of a rice field.
The pigeon sits with a wild boar in the middle of a rice field.
The owl stands in the middle of a rice field.
Boku no dai koku bashira tanbo no naka ni desu

A huge part of the fun of being new born to a language is you get to put together your new words any which way you want, and people accept its not because you’re weird, but merely because you’re foreign. It allows the return of a valuable playfulness that adult life, within our culture of origin, can often restrict.

The lightness of the nonsense conceals considerable tension: we are headed towards what feels like an almost impossible mission – to speak with the head of a coastal whaling company, and attempt to convince him of the value of our project.

For those of you just tuning in for the first time, the mission seems impossible because Japanese whalers have become very wary of foreign media. Even before The Cove was made, they knew that foreign media coverage of their activities generally catered to the anti-whaling perspective only, and portrayed them in an unflattering and uni-dimensional light.

After The Cove? Well, that impression increased somewhat, to put things mildly.

Its quite easy to imagine that no foreigner could convince a Japanese whaler to trust him with this topic at this point in time – and I have been living with this thought for a couple of years now, constantly tricking myself into believing that somehow, Hideki and I would find a way.

Such positive affirmations tend to work best when the moment of truth is far off and abstract. We grope forwards into the future, taking what steps we can towards our goal, thinking we’re putting in place the correct conditions for the outcome we desire. It is only at the doorstep of that goal that we realize with strong immediacy: the door may remain resolutely shut, no matter how hard we have tried.

Concretely, most of our efforts have consisted in designing a balanced film, which honors truth, direct experience, and honest, respectful dialogue above all. For me, it has been an exercise in letting go, because I am against whaling. I have had to put into action the Taoist principles of wu wei: to let go and accept that the outcome I desire may or may not come as a result of my commitment to openness, and truth. To strive by not striving.

What it boils down to is this: truth is more important than my desire… and this may be the hardest truth for one to accept. I can’t say that I have won that battle, but I am at least conscious that it is a battle I need to wage, and I remind myself of it daily.

What outcome do I desire? First, that the whalers accept to let me walk a mile in their shoes, and that they then accept to walk a mile in mine. Second, that this might lead to whales no longer coming to harm at the hands of men.

So, at the doorstep of Whale Like Me’s ultimate gatekeeper, the whaler himself, I have to accept that he also must fight that inner battle in order to accept that this adventure is worthwhile.

No matter how hard I have tried to trust that our goal of exchanged experience will lead to a future I can accept, I must now face that if the whalers cannot attain that same trust – the journey will end abruptly here.

Hideki and I talk openly about the upcoming meeting now. Then silence again.

I again fight to practice wu wei: I should not worry or have a heavy heart if I believe my efforts and principles will lead to a future I can accept. If Hideki and I have done our best, and the whalers still cannot see value in our approach – then that is the truth of this matter, and I must embrace it. The film then becomes a chronicle of that truth – a sadder story with less potential for mutual understanding and reconciliation, but truth nonetheless.

It is now in the hands of the whalers. Or some would say, in the hands of God, the Universe, or Divine Providence. In any event, it is out of my hands.

Optimism springs from nothingness, and hangs about inside the car like a miracle.

We enter the town.

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