By Lee Hyo-won
If Erin Brockovich's cleavage helped her defense, then Grandma Song Sin-do
's unbreakable heart keeps her fighting her case. Currently playing in theaters is Ahn Hae-ryong
's "My Heart Is Not Yet Broken", which documents this "unconventional" World War II victim who has become something of a star in Japan while filing a lawsuit against the Japanese government.
Only recently have surviving "comfort women", who were forced into sexual slavery in Japanese military brothels during war, dared to speak of their past. In 1991, Kim Hak-soon was the first to give a public testimony in Korea, and two years later, Song became the first in Japan.
The local media often portrays a group of fragile, teary-eyed grandmothers and supporters demonstrating vehemently in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul ― but in Song's instance, it was a group of Japanese civilians who persuaded her to file a case against the Japanese government and demand a formal apology. And, unlike other war victims, this "hard as nails" 77-year-old exhibits "rage and humor unbefitting a sufferer", according to an Asahi Shimbun reporter in the film.
Inspired by Song, some 670 Japanese individuals funded the documentary. Her sharp tongue makes "My Heart" humorous as much as it is moving, and moreover, inspirational to see how an individual can transcend personal struggles. Rather than lamenting over seven years of sexual slavery, she condemns the inclusive horrors of war itself, arguing that Japanese soldiers and sex slaves were all victims. The movie moves away from the anti-Japanese sentiment that is usually associated with the issue her, and she even welcomes veteran soldiers as valuable witnesses for her case.
Moreover, "My Heart" documents her personal transformation. In spite of her charisma and wit, the past had made her deeply untrusting of people, and the difficulties of living as a foreigner in Japan had deprived her of a sense of belonging. Through her journey, she learns to open her heart to strangers and to reconnect with her homeland.
The movie is currently showing in various venues in Japan since it was first released in August 2007. Song has been touring the nation to tell her story, particularly to high school students. "It is necessary that many Japanese people be informed of (comfort women), and the movie must be seen in order to spread the knowledge", a teenage girl was quoted as saying after watching the movie, according to the film's domestic distributor.
Born in 1922 in South Chungcheong Province, Song became a comfort woman in China at the tender age of 16. Over seven nightmarish years, she was impregnated numerous times, and had to give away two of her surviving babies to local families. All that remain with her are a tattoo of her slave name "Ganeko", a damaged left ear and several deep scars from beatings.
After the war came to an end in 1945, she had nowhere to go and accepted a marriage proposal from a Japanese soldier. Once they arrived in Japan, however, her fiance abandoned her. While she was fortunate to meet a Korean-Japanese man named Ha, who became a father figure to her, her illegal immigrant status and poverty were constant struggles.
In 1992, a document proving the Japanese government's involvement with the military brothels was found. Japanese civilian organizations established a hotline "Comfort Woman 110" and Song's story surfaced through an anonymous informant. After being contacted and persuaded by the organization, she went public with her history.
Shortly thereafter, a support group for the trial was founded, and continues to operate without a formal structure, committee members or office. The legal battle against the Japanese government continued for seven years, and while the verdict recognized the state's misconduct, it rejected the request for a formal apology, reasoning that it was too late to make the claim. But Song and her supporters will not give up hope.
Actress Moon So-ri
provides the narration for the documentary. Also featured is music by Korean-Japanese musician Pak Poe, who is known as the Bob Dylan of Japan. A portion of the profit from ticket sales will be used to fund the establishment of the War and Women's Human Rights Museum in Korea (Open the link
Now showing at Film Forum and Mirospace in Seoul, CGV Theater Seomyeon in Busan and CGV Theater Incheon. 95 minutes. 12 and over. In Korean and Japanese with Korean subtitles. Distributed by Indiestory.