Monday, July 6, 2015

"Filmmaker wants Japan to remember the ‘comfort women’"

Photo borrowed from "Kioku to Ikiru" website.

Excerpts from The Japan Times, 7/4/15.

…[J]ournalist Toshikuni Doi unpacked 100 hours of videotaped interviews he conducted with seven Korean comfort women in the mid-1990s and edited it into a 3½-hour film titled “Kioku to Ikiru” (“To Live With Memories“) that has just been released theatrically. Doi is famous for his reporting on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and nuclear-related issues. In a long post on his blog, he explains that he became aware of Korean comfort women in the early ’90s while corresponding with Hatsuko Tominaga, a hibakusha (atomic bomb victim) whose activism extended beyond anti-nuclear matters to address victims of Japanese aggression, including sex slaves, whom she wanted to meet. However, she was not well enough to travel, and Doi offered to go to South Korea to meet with former comfort women and record their interviews for her.

He started the project in 1994, and ended up devoting three years to it, traveling back-and-forth between Japan and a house in Seoul where the women lived communally, slowly trying to gain their trust so that they would open up about their experiences, which they were reluctant to do, especially in front of a Japanese man. However, Doi’s nationality and gender had one advantage.

While he was conducting the interviews, a Korean filmmaker, Byun Young-joo, was doing the same thing and the women seemed more comfortable with her. Byun’s documentary has since become one of the most famous in the history of Korean film, and Doi admires it but says his is different because, as an interlocutor, “I am a man representing the oppressor country.” He believes Byun, because she is Korean and a woman, drew a line in her interviews over which she would not step, but Doi could get at the core of their pain because their anger was directed at what he represents, and he admits that he exploited this situation.

“Perhaps it was cold of me,” he writes, “but I felt I had to convey their experiences to Japanese people,” and that meant pressing for detail, no matter how uncomfortable it made them feel.

All the subjects are dead now, so no one gleaned any personal justice from their participation in Doi’s film. Some of the footage was shown on NHK in the late ’90s, but Doi says he wasn’t sufficiently motivated to revisit the tapes until Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto said that the comfort stations were “necessary” and a gallery in Tokyo cancelled an exhibition by a South Korean photographer about sex slaves left behind in China. Doi’s purpose is to supply “real faces” to the comfort women controversy. Without individual stories the issue remains an abstraction, and thus easier to ignore and deny. Nevertheless, the premiere, held in early June, was covered by only one Japanese national daily, the Asahi Shimbun.

“Kioku to Ikiru” is now playing at Uplink in Tokyo. It will open in various cities nationwhide in coming months. In Korean and Japanese with Japanese subtitles.

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