“I had doubts about it,” said director Miki Dezaki of the documentary “Shusenjo: The Main Battleground of the Comfort Women Issue.” The “it” being the issue of comfort women, whom Dezaki had only heard about from his foreign teachers, he told the audience following a discussion of the film in the Konover Auditorium of the Dodd Center at the University of Connecticut yesterday evening.
Dezaki narrated the beginning of his film, saying he sought to do more research on the issue because he did not know anything about it. He originally created the film as a graduate thesis. Now, it has gained world attention and is being shown in Tokyo, Japan and Korea on a daily cycle, said UConn history professor Alexis Dudden.
One of the biggest debates that puts a divide between Korea and Japan is the enslavement of thousands of Korean women and others in brothels during World War II by the Japanese Imperial Army. The film shows how that part of history has been written off by the government and many Japanese nationalists. Many Korean women have come forward to tell their stories.
The film also included a portion saying that other women, such as Dutch women, were also “sex slaves” alongside these women. Many Japanese nationalists seek to silence this part of history. The official government apology from the Japanese government didn’t come until 1993.
“I want people to understand how hard it was for women to talk about,” Dezaki said. The film showed and spoke on the emotional trauma the women suffered, making it hard for recountings of their experience to be consistently accurate, showing them visibly distraught.
The film featured interviews from speakers on both sides of the debate, including lawyer and celebrity Kent Gilbert and political science professor Koichi Nakano. The documentary balanced both sides of the debate of whether these women were comfort women or prostitutes by rapidly going back and forth between interviews, inserting archival clips of testimonies. Within the United States, for example, there are statues that memorialize the comfort women and what had been done to them in California, specifically in Glendale, Calif.
Dezaki included clips of the hearing from both sides, some supporting the statue for standing up for basic human rights, while others denounced the statues, arguing for their removal and felt a personal attack as a Japanese person.
“They’re self-censoring themselves,” Dezaki said.
Phyllis Kim, a member of the Korean American Forum of California (KAFC), was also present in the audience at UConn. During the film discussion, she said of the Glendale hearings, “We were surprised [to see] more than 100 Japanese Americans [including some Japanese people] who flew in from Japan.” She called the debate ultimately a “history war” as Japanese denialists contend that Korean comfort women were merely prostitutes and not “sex slaves.”
When Dezaki showed the film to universities in Japan, he was met with a positive response to the film, he said. The main audience for the film was Japanese people, he said. But when asked by a Japanese student during its run in Japan why the narration was in English, Dezaki said that English was the primary language because originally, the video was for a graduate project.
“One of the goals for me was to keep people engaged and refreshed,” he said when asked about the technicalities of the creation and editing of his film. Everything from the length of the clips and the music was done with a purpose, specifically focusing on a Japanese audience.
Ianna Chan, an exchange student from the National University of Singapore studying English literature, said that she did not know the politics and history involving comfort women before her Asian American Literature lecture professor Na-Rae Kim suggested the class to attend.
“There are extremely conflicting points of view of war history and trauma,” Chan said.
Na-Rae Kim is an assistant professor in residence at the Asian and Asian American Studies Institute who encouraged people to come, saying that it makes audience members think about historical accuracy as a whole.
“There is a reverberating problem of human rights,” Kim said.
Following the showing of the film, Dezaki said that he is being sued by five people interviewed within the film. Despite that, Dezaki emphasized the importance of the film about comfort women saying, “The film allows people in Japan to talk about it.”
Kimberly Nguyen is the digital editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.