Five years ago today was the US release of A Whale of a Tale, a fascinating and well-made documentary about the whaling industry in Taiji, Japan, created by filmmaker Megumi Sasaki.
Megumi Sasaki is a filmmaker and author. Born and raised in Japan, Megumi moved to New York City when she was 26. She began her career as a journalist, working in both Japanese television and print. For a few years she worked for NHK, Japan Broadcasting Corporation (Japan’s largest and only public broadcast network). She was an anchor, reporter, and news director for “Ohayo Nippon,” or “Good Morning Japan,” the most watched morning program in the country.
Megumi’s work in journalism evidently sparked her interest in educating the public and spreading awareness about various topics, leading her to documentary filmmaking.
Her debut feature film was Herb and Dorothy (2008), which she directed and produced. The film tells the story of Herb and Dorothy Vogel, a seemingly normal and middle-class couple who have collected over 4,000 pieces of contemporary art (much of it quite valuable) and become household names in the contemporary art world.
Filled with charming interviews with the couple as well as with incredible artists like Christo, Chuck Close, and Robert Mangold, Herb and Dorothy is a delightful and fascinating exploration of the meaning of art and the love and passion that can grow between two people.
Herb and Dorothy is a delightful and fascinating exploration of the meaning of art and the love and passion that can grow between two people.
Five years later, Megumi released Herb and Dorothy 50×50. This follow-up film tracks the couple’s project entitled “The Herb and Dorothy Vogel Collection: 50 Works for 50 States,” in which they distributed fifty of their works to each of the fifty states.
In 2018, Megumi directed A Whale of a Tale, a documentary about the practice of hunting dolphins and whales in Taiji, Japan—a practice which was under protest by American activists. The film was created partially in response to The Cove, another documentary about the Japanese whaling industry, which sought solely to attack the practice.
A Whale of a Tale, by contrast, provides insight into both sides of the argument, allowing the people of Taiji to explain the importance of whaling to their culture and tradition. As I wrote in a review of the film, “Fundamental ideological differences between Americans and Japanese people become obvious as the two countries attempt to reconcile radically different beliefs in order to end this long and heated conflict.”
In an interview with FF2 contributor Lesley Coffin, Megumi explained her approach to the film: “When I interview people I always try to come in without any preconceptions and just try to listen and more importantly try to understand what they believe in. And as a documentarian I try not to present my ideas as the ultimate authority. I don’t want anyone to be portrayed as a villain, especially when dealing with controversial issues. I’m very careful not to make the issues black or white, because the reality is, things are extremely complicated.” The nuance and intelligence with which Megumi makes her films reveal her to be a documentarian who is a cut above the rest.
© Julia Lasker (8/17/2023) FF2 Media
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Read Lesley Coffin’s interview with Megumi here.
Read Julia Lasker’s review of A Whale of a Tale here.
Watch Herb and Dorothy here.
Watch A Whale of a Tale here.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured photo: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Bernard Gotfryd, [LC-DIG-gtfy-07171]