Spirit’s Homecoming is a newly released Korean movie directed by Jung-Lae Cho. While the most popular, mainstream movies in the film industry today are the ones featuring big-name actors, superheros and science fiction, this film dares to play the opposite by dealing with the most vulnerable population that history should not forget. The film focuses on the sensitive yet important topic of comfort women. During World War II, over 200,000 young Korean women were captured and forced to work in Japanese military brothels as sex slaves, and these women are often referred to as comfort women. This movie is very controversial because it brought to public attention the very controversial topic that still interferes in the relationship between Japan and Korea.
The movie plot builds on a fictional story of two young girls, Jung-Min and Young-Hee who are kidnapped by the Japanese soldiers and forced to become sex slaves. Although they are fictional characters, the facts and events in the film are based on the true experiences of the survivors he has met and interviewed.
Director Cho was motivated to produce a movie regarding such topic after meeting the surviving comfort women through volunteering at the House of Sharing, a nursing home where they reside in. He was aware of the comfort women system, and felt sorry for what has happened to them, but not aware of the amount of impact this tragedy had on these individuals. When he thought he had built a close relationship with the people he was working with, he stretched his arm to give a back massage to one of the woman. The woman automatically moved her shoulders away from him. This is when he realized what these women had been through – these women got defensive with physical contact with a male.
A painting drawn by one of the survivors during an art-therapy session also inspired him. It was a drawing of her memory of Japanese soldiers taking the “useless,” meaning sick or weak sex slaves to a burning pit and burning them alive. Seeing that this was only one of the many memories these women had to live with, struck him hard.
Last year marked the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in World War II. However, the reason why there are activists all around the world to push this issue is because these comfort women did not get the appropriate apology they certainly deserve. There are war crimes that are committed when a country gains power over the other. Japan ruled Korea as a colony from 1910 to 1945, and had committed such war crimes including the case with the comfort women. However, the country has called the demands of apology unreasonable and unnecessary, asserting that it has demonstrated sufficient remorse for its wartime aggressions. Under Mr. Abe’s right-leaning government, revisionists have become more outspoken about their claim that the women were ordinary prostitutes who worked at the brothels voluntarily. For them, the living evidence does not seem to suffice.
Thus, this movie aims to deliver the tragic history that sure did happen to the world. All these victims want is a sincere apology for the separation from their families, destruction of their womanhood and the ignored human rights. The survivors asked Director Cho to spread their stories before all of them were gone, and the history is not distorted or forgotten.
With such responsibility he felt, Director Cho felt obligated to release this movie as soon as possible before more survivors pass away because out of the 200,000 women that were taken, only a few hundred survived and managed to return home; out of those few hundred, there is currently less than 50 living evidence alive.
However, since this is such a heavy, he had to face opposition while trying to raise money for the film. In an interview with the New York Times, he said “They asked me why I wanted to throw salt on an old wound. They see the subject of comfort women as a history of shame.” Director Cho knew he could not get commercial funding, so he started a fundraiser, and to everyone’s surprise, about 70,000 people ranging from elementary students wanting to contribute their savings from chores to activists participated.Not only was there financial instability, but pressure from Japan by lawsuits against the movie.
After also struggling to cast actors, Director Cho settled on a cast of Korean and ethnically Korean-Japanese actors. Nearly all of the actors have agreed to participate in the film without pay because they said they felt somewhat responsible for what had happened, and they participated with an eagerness to deliver this important history, but with a heavy heart.
With all the obstacles Director Cho had to overcome, it took him more than a decade to finally get this film out to the world. He calls this movie “our” movie. He truly believes that this movie would have not been able to be produced without the help of all the passionate people who realized the importance of this issue. With around 70,000 contributors, this movie is one of the movies with the most contributors in the world. The title is Gwi-Hyang which means the spirits’ return to home. Director Cho wishes that every time the movie is screened, at least one sorrowful spirit that has been left in the foreign country returns home. Him, and his supporters strongly believe that this movie that was produced behind a true story, will serve as a proof for the comfort women victims despite the efforts to distort history.
By Sooahn Ko