The Apology depicts courageous fight for justice

Community News & Features Jul 28, 2017 at 4:22 pm

The-apologyDocumentary film on “comfort women”

By Mila Astorga-Garcia and Lui Queaño

TORONTO — The fight for justice for “comfort women” continues and will not stop for as long as the Japanese government would not apologize and show true remorse for the injustice inflicted on them.

Such is the message imparted by ‘The Apology’,” the powerful award-winning National Film Board (NFB) feature documentary by Tiffany Hsiung.

Adela_The ApologyThis full-length film follows the personal journeys of three “grandmothers”—Grandma Gil in South Korea, Grandma Cao in China, and Grandma Adela in the Philippines — about 70 years after their abduction and imprisonment in “comfort stations.” There, they were forced into military sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II, a fate also suffered by an estimated 200,000 girls and young women victimized for the same purpose.

The grandmothers in their twilight years are fragile in health, yet they show a strong determination to get the apology that they deserve. The film also reveals their personal pain of living in shame and silence for most of their lives, as some of them hid their stories from their own families for fear of losing their respect and love. Some were actually ostracized by townmates.

Through the six long years of working on the film, Hsiung was able to gain the trust of the grandmas that in documenting their stories, she also became part of their healing. She became instrumental, for instance, in Adela’s decision to finally tell her story to her children, and to seek forgiveness from her departed husband for keeping secret the most painful part of her life.

WWII photo of Korean ‘comfort women’

WWII photo of Korean ‘comfort women’

Such is the power of this film: it vividly captures the frailty, strength, and humanity of the survivors as they pursue their demand for an apology. But beyond the personal stories, the film reveals the brutal horrors of war and with it, the systemic exploitation of women, institutionalized by the Japanese military in its treatment of women as recreational sexual objects.

The film also shows the determination of the grandmothers to continue their campaign for justice, with the help of advocates in various countries. Even with their passing, they know there are those who will take up their cause – among them, their children, the organizations, and youth volunteers who have taken on their campaign seriously; and Hsiung, who, more than just a filmmaker, has become a friend to them and a passionate advocate.

The film screening held last July 19 at OISE, organized by GABRIELA-Ontario and the International Women’s Alliance, in partnership with Anakbayan-Toronto, and Ontario Public Interest Research Group-Toronto, was a special event in that the filmmaker Hsiung was herself present to answer questions during the discussion that followed. With her was Judy Cho, Program Educator of Alpha Education, an NGO that promotes a critical-historical investigation of the events of World War II in Asia.

comfort-womenOn why it was taking so long for the comfort women issue to be recognized and dealt with:

For the grandmas, it took a long time for them to come out and share their stories to their families. It was difficult for them to trust people, and this was something that could not be rushed in them. Also the grandmas were fast aging, some are ill.

Hsiung has this to say about the element of time and trust, and how this affected even the making of the film:

“The hardest part of film production for me was going against time. Time is always the enemy. I never knew if the grandmothers would still be alive or their memories would still be intact. It was always a gamble. I drove everybody crazy around. Like I would tell them we need to do this faster, faster, faster but then again you can’t speed up relationships. I can’t speed up trust. Trust happens organically and for me to gain the trust with the grandmothers like that, to be able to develop that trust in their bedrooms, to film the most intimate conversations between the family members. They really trust you. And that wasn’t gonna happen in a year and a half over dumplings or noodles.”

Filmmaker Tiffany Hsiung

Filmmaker Tiffany Hsiung (Photo: HG)

As for the Japanese government, “they just want the issue to go away with time, and let the new generation forget about what happened,” Cho says.
However, the campaign for justice is happening in various levels – the political and educational, she adds.

“In the political level, the grandmas and their supporters are still fighting… In education, there has been some progress, in terms of reaching out to Canadian volunteers. With the film they are able to reach out to classrooms and students get inspired,” says Cho. Alpha Education has worked hard to integrate the issue in the TDSB (Toronto District School Board) curriculum. However, compared to Holocaust education, they have made only a ‘baby step,’ and they still have to get teachers to learn about this.”

The most encouraging thing is that more youth are getting involved in the campaign, Cho says. Some youth have ventured into an enterprise, and they dedicate half of what they are making to support the campaign.

Judy Cho of Alpha Education

Judy Cho of Alpha Education (Photo: HG)

Asked about the impact of the film, particularly the activism shown by the grandmothers as they tell the world about their horrible experiences as comfort women, Hsiung says.

“The film is going around the world and every country that I am able to accompany the film, the audience also relate the war that their country experienced, as well as the conflict and the rape that happened to the women. I think the conversations happening in the audience empower to learn from the activism that is happening with the grandmothers, and be inspired by that. And to start an initiative within your own country, within your own groups and communities is a good beginning.”

The Apology will be screened in the Philippines August 14, International Comfort Women Memorial Day, at one of the big film festivals.

The Apology had its world premiere in the Big Ideas section at the 2016 Hot Docs filmfest in Toronto, where it was the runner-up for the audience award. It received the Cinephile Award given to the best world documentary film in the Wide Angle Documentary Showcase in South Korea’s Busan International Film Festival in October 2016.