G. Allen Johnson / San Francisco Chronicle – 2017-06-26 16:30:05
Voices of Japan’s Wartime Sex Slaves in ‘The Apology’
G. Allen Johnson / San Francisco Chronicle
(June 8, 2017) — That there’s even an issue with the simple act of issuing an apology to women who were conscripted as sex slaves by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II (and their previous wars of aggression in the 1930s) is incredible.
But there it is — a Japanese prime minister calling the “comfort women” and their kidnappings and abuse “necessary.” Japanese nationalists, many of them young, disrupting a protest by octogenarian women who were victims by hurling vile insults as police hold them back. That’s in this decade.
That’s how Tiffany Hsiung’s moving new documentary “The Apology” opens. It’s a powerful, intimate portrait of how aging victims from all across Asia — South Korea, the Philippines, China, Taiwan and others — mobilize to try to force an apology (and possibly restitution) from the intractable Japanese government.
The film plays exclusively at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts for four screenings, beginning 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 8. The Thursday screening is sold out, but tickets for the other three are available. Hsiung has added an in-person Q&A after the 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 9 ,screening.
First off, these women don’t like to be called “comfort women.” They prefer “grandmothers,” and that’s how Hsiung refers to them in her film. She follows three of them: Grandma Gil in South Korea, where grandmothers have protested en masse at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul every Wednesday since 1992; Grandma Cao in China, who is cared for by her adopted daughter; and Grandma Adela in the Philippines.
Adela’s experiences during the war were a secret between her and her mother. They never told her father, who was off fighting; and she never told her husband or children, because she felt they would be ashamed of her. Her husband died without knowing, but she spends a good part of the film summoning up the courage to tell her children.
“I feel guilty,” Adele says. “I feel guilty about it. But if I could tell my children about it I would be very happy.”
An estimated 200,000 women across Asia were forced into prostitution by the Japanese Imperial Army. Soldiers went into villages and simply chose whom they wanted and kidnapped them. Those who resisted were often killed. During their years in bondage, many were impregnated and forced to kill their babies.
The stories told by these women are tough and unflinching. Yet “The Apology” is ultimately a film of strength and hope, not of nihilism. These are truly wonder women.
Perhaps one woman who could not have children after her experiences sums up the decades of emotional pain these women have felt. In an almost offhand comment as she is traveling on a train, she is asked what she would like to be reincarnated as in the next life.
“I don’t want to be reborn as something else,” she says. “I want to be reborn as a human. As a woman. I want to be someone’s precious daughter, married into a precious family and have my own family. How wonderful that would be.”
“The Apology.” 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday, June 8-9; and 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, June 10-11. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. 701 Mission St., S.F. (415) 978-2787. www.ybca.org
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