'Jackass' stunt spells trouble for DOD civilian employee on Okinawa
YOMITAN, Okinawa — In retrospect, Gary Hagland regrets his role in exciting those sea cucumbers.
Nor does the Okinawa-based civilian Defense Department employee appear too happy with his 15 minutes of fame, a result of his participation in “Jackass: The Movie.”
Okinawa probably doesn’t need that kind of publicity either, one local dive instructor said.
Among the scenes making all the waves: Two “Jackass” cast members have shrimp stuffed into their shorts just before they jump into the water. Within moments, they’re being nudged by a few whale sharks.
Whale sharks are the world’s largest fish. These whale sharks, tourist attractions that live in a huge underwater cage off Yomitan, each are about 25 feet long. In the film, their huge mouths nibble at the divers’ shorts. Fortunately, whale sharks are harmless filter feeders, scooping up enormous amounts of plankton, krill and small fish sieved through their gills as they swim.
But the scene has been anything but harmless to Hagland. “Jackass” was released in U.S. theaters last fall. Complaints concerning the Okinawa footage first surfaced on the island in December and picked up when the DVD version was released March 25.
Army officials at Torii Station in Yomitan were not amused, Hagland said in a brief phone conversation last month. He acknowledged he was investigated for his part in filming two of the movie’s underwater segments last spring. The problem: Hagland happens to be chief diving instructor at Torii Station.
Although saying he’s still a bit surprised strangers recognize him when he shops on Okinawa military bases, the dive instructor declined to be interviewed further.
“I’m happy with the Army’s response, and that should be the end of it,” he said.
Vanessa Lee, public affairs chief, 10th Army Support Group at Torii Station, read a statement that may explain his reticence.
“In response to an anonymous complaint made in December 2002, the Army conducted a formal investigation into the alleged use of Army property or personnel in the productions of the MTV ‘Jackass’ movie,” she said.
“The complainant alleged that the film’s segments discredited the Army or Torii Station. The investigating officer found an employee of the U.S. Army at Torii Station appeared in a brief segment of the movie and that Army nonappropriated fund employees participated in the technical aspects of the underwater filming, but that no filming took place on government property and all government employees were off duty and acting in a personal capacity.”
The movie’s closing credits list Hagland and his wife as underwater photographers, but the investigator found nothing in the film or closing credits identifying the Army or Torii Station. “Army property was not filmed,” Lee said. “There was no visit by the ‘Jackass’ film crew to Torii Station. The employees concerned are being counseled as to the policies governing off-duty conduct by government employees.”
Now, about those sea cucumbers: In a close-up, Hagland said he “made the mistake of showing what sea cucumbers do when they’re threatened.” The next underwater scene showed two “Jackass” crewmembers stroking sea cucumbers suggestively.
“So,” Hagland said later, “I apologize.”
That wasn’t good enough for Fathoms Dive Shop operator Rich Ruth, a long-time Hagland rival. He appeared particularly outraged by the whale shark dive.
“They are always talking about how they respect the environment and then they allow these idiots to dive in there and do these lewd things with the whale sharks,” Ruth said. “It was pretty slimy.”
The whale shark cage, which measures about 60 feet high and about 200 feet long, is about a half-mile off Yomitan’s coast. It was set up 10 years ago for whale sharks accidentally snared in Yomitan Fishermen’s Association nets.
But Yoshiaki Kamei, a researcher at Churaumi Aquarium, National Expo Park in Motobu, said the movie appalled him.
“The most dangerous thing for a whale shark is to swallow a foreign object,” he said. “Their digestive organ is very sensitive. When the shark nibbles at bait, it could also swallow something else. It is very dangerous and harmful to let a whale shark … do such a thing.”
Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.