Dir.: Yonghi Yang; Documentary; Japan 2005, 107 min.
In this intensely personal documentary Osaka born writer/director/DoP Yonghi Yang explores her father’s blind loyalty to North Korea.
It’s a long running story of exile and displacement. Yang was born in 1964 in Osaka, her parents were members of the North-Korean leaning Chongryun movement, who fought for a re-unification under the rule of Kim Il Sung, rather like their counterparts in the Mindan movement in Japan, Koreans who fought for the South, and wanted their country united under capitalist rule. Both movements each had about 100, 000 supporters, a small percentage of the Korean population which had been brought to Japan under Imperial rule.
Yonghi had three older teenage brothers: Kono, Kona and 14 year-old Konmin. They were fully integrated into Japanese society; Kono loving classical music and strong coffee. But in the early 1970s their parents packed them off on the ferry to North Korea, the Stalinist paradise Kim Il Sung had in mind. But Yonghi was left behind with her parents, trying to please them. In 1983 she visited North Korea for the first time as part of a youth delegation. Instead of spending time with her brothers, she and her friends were ferried around the country on a ‘cultural tour’ of monuments erected in honour of the wise leader.
Returning home, Yonghi soon find out that her parents had supported her brothers and their growing families with regular food supplies and other packages of ordinary consumer goods, which were unavailable in North Korea. Meanwhile the director’s father, a staunch supporter of the authoritarian leadership clique in the titular Pyongyang, lectured his daughter about staying true to the values he had espoused all his life – but only too glad to enjoy her financial generosity at his birthdays’ and other holidays. For his 70th birthday, the trio went on another ferry pilgrimage to the North, were Yang senior was the celebrated guest of honour, wearing all his medals and extolling the regime to all and his sons and many of their friends who were also received financial support from their parents from Japan. Eventually Yonghi put her foot down and her father agreed to her becoming a South Korean national. But his allegiance to Kim Il Sung never swayed, Yonghi’s mother claiming: “Beliefs get stronger, the longer you hold them”.
The personal and the political clash head-on here, the dualism occasionally becoming unbearably tense. At one point Yang senior puts on his medal-adorned jacket and announced: “I had no choice”. The director remained close to the sibling, and her niece Sona (leading to her subsequent 2010 feature Sona, the other Myself 2010) but was banned from visiting North Korea. AS
YAMAGATA: EXCLUSIVE SHOWCASE OF JAPANESE DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKING ONLINE FOR FREE. | The complete selection will be available entirely for free on DAFilms.com from January 17 – 23 at this link: https://dafilms.com/program/1126-made-in-japan-yamagata-1989-2021