A film based on the horrors experienced by "comfort women" in Japanese military brothels during World War II, whose doubtful commercial appeal meant it took 14 years and the contributions of 75,000 individual donors to complete, tops the box office in South Korea.
Cho Jung-rae, who directed Spirits' Homecoming, was inspired in 2002 to make the film when he saw the drawing “Burning Women,” made during a therapy session at a shelter for elderly former comfort women by Kang Il-chul, who said she was taken away by Japanese soldiers when she was 16.
"The grandmothers told me that if I was going to make a movie, I should make it well so that their stories could be told. That was the biggest motivation for me," Cho said in an interview with Reuters.
The term comfort women is a euphemism for girls and women forced to work in wartime Japanese military brothels. South Korean activists estimate that there may have been as many as 200,000 Korean victims. Of 238 South Korean comfort women who shared their stories, only 44 are still alive.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has compiled a report criticising the Japan-South Korea deal over the final resolution of the comfort women issue, reached last December, saying, "It regrets that announcement of the bilateral deal ... did not fully adopt a victim-centred approach."
On top of recognising the right of former comfort women to a remedy, it urges Japan to provide full and effective redress and reparation, including compensation, satisfaction, official apologies and rehabilitative services.
The report has distorted the meaning of the bilateral deal, hasn't it? Although the report is not legally binding, it is hard to understand the stance of the committee in expressing such outlandish views. It is reasonable that the government told the United Nations that the report was "extremely regrettable".
A spokesperson for South Korea's Foreign Ministry also refuted the report, saying, "In the negotiation with Japan, we made utmost efforts so that opinions of victims can be reflected." The spokesperson also emphasised that by implementing the bilateral deal, which includes the setting up of a foundation to support former comfort women, South Korea would make efforts to have opinions of former comfort women and related organisations reflected.
The movie ‘Spirits’ Homecoming’ about Korean ‘Comfort Women’ who served as sex slaves for the Japanese army during the 1940s, topped South Korea’s box office for 14 days.
The film’s director, Jeong-lae Cho, said that the film’s success is miracle as it took 14 years to make. He decided to write a scenario of this film when he was shocked by a painting called ‘Burning Virgins,’ by Il-chul Kang, a survivor on whose story the movie was based.
The movie was produced thanks to 75,000 supporters on Cloud Funding, which scored $1.2 billion won, or slightly over $1 million USD.
Many crew members, including actors, also donated their talents and work. The movie showed how girls were cruelly abused and murdered. Cho also mentioned that ‘Comfort Women’ issue should be treated as a human rights and not as a political issue. ‘Spirits’ homecoming’ was released in the US this week, and will be shown in Canada on March 18th.
The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has revealed the screening results for textbooks that will be used from fiscal 2017, mainly by first- and second-year high school students. The changes will help establish an environment in which students from the fifth grade of primary school through high school can properly learn the facts about territorial issues.
Teikoku-Shoin Co. deleted, at its own initiative, part of the text about comfort women in its textbook for world history A. The current version contains such text as “Japan’s colonial rule, wartime requisition and conscription, as well as what is said to have been the sending of women to comfort women facilities." “What is said to have been the sending of women to comfort women facilities” was deleted in the new version.
“From a certain standpoint, there was concern that the description could be interpreted as saying that [the women] were forcibly sent by the Japanese military,” an editorial staffer at Teikoku-Shoin said.
The staffer also cited the fact that The Asahi Shimbun withdrew articles related to statements by the late Seiji Yoshida, who claimed that wartime comfort women were forcibly taken away. The Asahi concluded that his statements were untrue. In Suken Shuppan’s textbooks, the term “comfort women” was deleted from descriptions of postwar compensation paid by Japan and other places. In the two textbooks on contemporary society, which passed the latest screenings, there is no text about comfort women.
The United States depends on South Korea and Japan to safeguard its interests in East Asia. Unfortunately, both countries are still embroiled in a long-simmering conflict over the use of South Korean women in Japanese "comfort stations" during World War II. And because South Korea stands in lockstep with China and North Korea on this issue, the conflict presents new challenges to American policy in the region. In recognition of the broader implications of this issue, the United States successfully brokered a bilateral agreement between Japan and South Korea to ultimately resolve the "comfort women" issue.
Reached late last year, the agreement codified a final Japanese apology for the use of comfort women and the establishment of an $8 million fund to provide additional reparations for the surviving women. And while this agreement certainly cannot erase the resentment this issue has engendered for many decades among South Koreans, both governments intended it to be the final political word on this issue.
Unfortunately, North Korea appears intent on using this issue to drive a wedge between America's two most important allies in Asia. In the wake of the agreement, the North Korean government described the deal as "humiliating." Meanwhile, Chong Dae Hyup, a prominent organization believed to have ties to North Korea, has used the agreement to rally nationalist sentiment in South Korea against Japan. It is hardly a surprise that North Korea has been perhaps the loudest voice opposing the bilateral agreement. The North Korean regime has long been desperate to deflect attention away from its own abysmal record on human rights.
However, it was deeply concerning to see some prominent Korean-American organizations articulating a similar message as the North Korean propaganda machine when they called on President Barack Obama to fire Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a Change.org petition protesting the agreement. (Most Korean-American organizations actually strongly support the agreement).
North Korea has demonstrated its willingness to exploit the emotions of the comfort women issue to undermine the historic agreement that the United States brokered with its regional allies in Asia. The considerable political capital the United States invested in reaching this critical agreement should be evidence enough of the importance of reconciling differences between our allies in East Asia. So it is important that the United States remain vigilant to ensure our allies uphold these understandings in order to maintain a united front against North Korea.