Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Gatekeeper, part 2

Hideki leaves me waiting in the car: this first contact is to drop off our proposal.

Hideki will then seek to meet with the head of the whaling operation the next day and perhaps arrange a meeting that includes me on the third day... should we even get that far.

I step out and walk up and down the waterfront, intending to spend the 5 minute wait in appreciation of the sea.

Rather than stress over the outcome, I’m now in a meditative zone – I look out across the Pacific and draw up memories of the days when I lived in Venice Beach, California, in the early 90’s. That familiar boardwalk lies there, beyond thousands of miles of deep, mysterious waters in which untold, watery lives unfold.

Most weekends I would get the hell out of LA and its infernal grid to hike through the arid canyons north of Malibu. The memory of the hikes washes over me now: probably because of how I would enter the same meditative state on these walks, where everything falls away leaving only an expanded, more vibrant present awareness of the world around me. In these times, there is a feeling of connecting earth and heaven, and the senses extend beyond the body to fuse with the air, the water, the earth and the life they are all host to.

Hideki has been gone 30 minutes, and I continue to walk.

Hideki has not returned after an hour – I choose various vantage points along the beach to stand and observe the universal rituals of the beach-going public.

After an hour and a half, I laugh at how tortured this wait would be if I were in any other state of mind.

Surely, either this long absence is a very good sign, or a very bad one.

The inhabitants of this region are far more friendly than the bustling denizens of Tokyo – most nod or smile as they pass me. Only a few seem to not know what to do with me, and so remain impassive or stern.

The butterflies flit about. The hornets fly about their business.

A cat pads out from the bushes, across the road and down the stone steps to the sand, where it promptly digs and squats. I look away out of respect for the keen sense of dignity cats have – especially in these embarrassing moments of public body function - then back again in time to see it paw a token amount of sand over its business before returning back the way it came.

Well over two ours have passed, and finally, there is Hideki, alive and smiling.

The film will be made, he says.

We sit and look out over the water. The details come out gradually, some of which I can share here.

The head of the whaling operation is a very reasonable man, intelligent and well-traveled, Hideki explains. And most importantly for us, he shares the vision of exchange of Whale Like Me. Many details remain to be discussed but in principle, we have a meeting of the minds, and this creative partnership of a conservationist with whalers will move forwards.

The next day, the three of us meet. I agree with Hideki’s impressions of the man.

Whale Like Me proposed this meeting but could not know in advance who the whaler would be: now that I have him in front of me, I see that he is perfect. He will represent his perspective with intelligence, and give my conservationist approach real questions to grapple with. Already during our first brief meeting, we left each other with some potent challenges to chew upon and the tension in the air was thick: there is no doubt we will - all three of us - grow and evolve through the making of this film.

My time with him during the shoot will be tense, confronting and real – but the outcome, I know, will mark progress towards unlocking the stalemate over whaling. He and Hideki will represent to foreigners a more honest representation of who the whalers and the Japanese are, what they do, and why. I will represent to Japanese people a more honest view of who conservationists are, what we do, and why.

The dice are not loaded: after following this chemical reaction between opposites, caught on film, the chips will fall where they may.

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.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Whale Like Me in the press

The past few weeks have been busy for Whale Like Me.

A fair amount of interest has been expressed by the press, even at this early stage. Here are some links to an article by The Australian’s Tokyo correspondent Rick Wallace, and follow up article by Elizah Leigh:

We will conduct a radio interview with Radio Australia soon – more news on that to come shortly if you want to tune in.

This is exciting in and of itself, but all the more so because we are saving a lot of the most interesting aspects of the film for later (else why would anyone watch the film). If the generic overview we can give of the project at this early stage is raising eyebrows, we feel confident the film will surpass expectations.

We are very busy at present in Tokyo, but Hideki has started to provide for press coverage in Japan. Our project seeks to provide more balance to this issue, and it is important that the Japanese press be able to comment since commentary has started overseas.

We remain in need of your support – your donations make all the difference.

Please use our crowd-sourcing tools to donate and spread the word:

Whale Like Me aims to unlock the stalemate: we cannot accomplish this adventure of experience exchange and dialogue without your help.