"The Cove" has failed to even gross $1 million in domestic release and is even less known in Japan, where the government has maintained that the hunting of dolphins and whales remains an important cultural tradition.
Directed by former National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos, the film follows a group of eco-activists who struggle with Japanese police and fisherman to gain access to a secluded cove in Taiji, in southern Japan, where dolphins are hunted.
It features graphic footage of dolphins being herded into the cove and slaughtered, but also notes that dolphin meat is eaten by a very small percentage of Japanese people.
The movie features Ric O'Barry, a former dolphin trainer from the 1960s television series "Flipper" who helped organize the effort to chronicle the dolphin hunt in Taiji.
O'Barry also has appeared on various talk shows urging an end to commercial displays of marine mammals following the recent killing of a trainer by a killer whale at the SeaWorld theme park in Florida.
Takeshi Kato of the distribution company Unplugged, said last Thursday that he has arranged to show "The Cove" in five cinemas in major Japanese cities in May or June and hopes to expand the number of theaters to about 20.
The documentary was shown at the Toyko International Film Festival last year, but a university in Tokyo was reported to have abandoned a planned screening of the movie there this month after objections from Taiji.
"When the film is seen in Japan, it will shut 'the cove' down permanently," O'Barry said in a recent interview.