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Korean Filmmaker’s Homeland Blues

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Download Our Homeland is a feature film about Korean man’s visit to his family in Japan after a long exile in North Korea.

The director Yang Yong-Hi leans on her own personal history and similar stories from her pro-North Korean community in Japan for the film.

Yang portrays Koreans living in Japan who were treated like second-class citizens and discriminated against.

It’s been selected as Japan’s nominee for this year’s Oscar and recently screened at a film festival in Sweden.

Ric Wasserman speaks with the director about the film.

A subtle, tense, family drama Our Homeland is based on Yang’s own life in Japan in the 1980s.

That time North Korea had a stronger economy than South Korea.

Yang’s father sent her brothers from Japan to North Korea convinced that he was sending them to paradise.  

“Kim Il Sung made a beautiful speech to the Koreans in Japan: ‘You guys choose North Korea as your fatherland and we’ll give you a job, education, medical treatment and house. So why don’t you come to North Korea?’ That was the honey speech for the Koreans who had the worst, worst status. We say, worse than trash.”

Many parents believed life would be better in North Korea than in Japan.

Yang herself is a second generation. Like other Koreans, she and her family felt like they were treated like second class citizens.

They were forced to assume Japanese names, to work in coal mines and other dangerous industries for low wages... if they could find work at all.

“When I was much younger than now I even couldn’t get a part time job as a waitress, because of my identity, because of my Korean name.”

The film Our Homeland is based on Yang’s reunion with her brother sent to North Korea.

Her brother Songho finally returns to Japan for treatment of a brain tumor.

But he’s paralysed by fear in his unfamiliar surroundings.

“In my real life at that moment I really tried to hide my emotions. I really tried to pretend that I was OK. With the severe order or my brother’s tumour...I really tried. I was OK."

As filmmaker, Yang explored similar issues in her two other documentaries, both based on interaction with her family in North Korea.

In her award-winning documentary in 2005 Dear Pyongyang, Yang asked her father if he regrets sending his sons to North Korea.

“My father showed a little bit of that in my first documentary. That’s why the North Korean association in Japan hated my documentary.  He was really  honest,  he said: ’I shouldn’t have sent my sons. ’ He said that.”

But Yang’s father was trapped as a representative for North Korea in Japan, in order to protect his sons.

“That’s why my father coundn’t quit, and my mom sent a lot of boxes to support their daily life: clothes, books, sugar and rice and medicine... Everything.”

Yang sees her responsibility as a filmmaker to remember those who’ve been abandoned in North Korea after they realised the country was far from a paradise.

As she said, ‘we can’t turn a blind eye to their lives.’

Yang is happy that her film has opened a locked door for the Asian audience.

“After they watched my film they said: Wow. We can talk about it. Is it ok? I kind of opened the door. I really hate the taboo.”


Last Updated ( Saturday, 19 January 2013 13:28 )  

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