Sakamoto (played by Jang Dong-gun) is an ethnically Korean investigator working for the Japanese government in an alternative reality where Japan won World War II. Actually the counter-historical is fairly interesting- so far as I can tell, in this timeline Japan avoided the Second Sino-Japanese War and instead engaged in brinksmanship with the Russians. This resulted in Japan joining the Allies and Russia allying with the Axis. It should come as little surprise that in this timeline America entered the war a lot earlier. Goodness knows we hated Communists a lot more than we did the Nazis.
Anyway, the actual movie...unfortunately never really advances beyond its fairly interesting backstory. Initially "2009 Lost Memories" is just a detective serial. Sakamoto and the Japanese investigators are trying to figure out what the Hureisenjin insurgent group is trying to accomplish. This mystery ends up directly tying into why the timeline is so heavily altered, which might be interesting navel-gazing stuff if every other scene didn't end in an elaborate gunfight.
The emotional level is pretty weak too. A lot is made of Sakamoto's mysterious relationship with Hye-rin (played by Seo Jin-ho). For the longest time I thought they must have been ex-lovers, and as far as I can remember, this connection is never really coherently explained beyond I guess just magic. It's really not a good sign when a movie has to take a time-out as one character from nowhere just dumps the entire explanation regarding the central mystery in a single fell swoop of dialogue to a guy he's never met.
Enhancing the state of general unreality is the fact that "2009 Lost Memories" takes place in a world where only named characters are allowed to have any general competence. Everything ends up boiling down to a confrontation between Sakamoto and the only ethnic Japanese character with any meaningful dialogue, even though neither of these men have any kind of obviously useful skills that should explain why they and they alone are the ones to make this final choice.
The alternate history angle is an interesting one, and I really wish more had been done along those lines. The concept of the Japanese trying to rewrite history so they come out of World War II with their honor intact is an interesting one. Zipang, a Japanese animation/comic book, gets a lot of mileage out of the idea. Sadly, the animation stops in the middle of the story and the comic has to the best of my knowledge never been translated into English (there is a Korean version though).
Even from the Korean angle the way the "2009 Lost Memories "ignores the historical implications to focus on gunfights is mostly just kind of annoying. Korea hasn't fared as badly in the history books as Japan did, but the Korean War was kind of a big deal that I imagine most Koreans would want to avoid if at all possible. And yet the bifurcation of the peninsula is only flippantly discussed here- rather awkwardly because the movie predicts that reunification should have happened by now, in 2015. All the same, "2009 Lost Memories" is rather uninspiring, non-thought provoking science fiction that really should by all means be avoided.
Review by William Schwartz
Available on YESASIA and Amazon Instant
DVD with Yesterday (En Sub)
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "2009 Lost Memories""
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