Play Revisits Japan's Colonial Horrors

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Play Revisits Japan's Colonial Horrors

Japan's 1905 annexation and subsequent colonization of Korea, which lasted until 1945, remains an emotional issue between the two nations. Many events during that time have yet to be satisfactorily understood and resolved.

A Japanese play makes an attempt to address this sensitive issue by dramatizing the true story of a church massacre in a small Korean village, Je-amri, in 1919. "Ah, Je-amri!" will be staged by Donginhoe, a Japanese theatrical company, at Munye Theater from Monday to Friday.

Je-amri, in Kyonggi province, was a peaceful village of mostly Protestant and Catholic inhabitants. In 1919, on March 1, the villagers gathered in front of Je-amri's church to urge the independence of Korea from Japan. Their rallying cry was "Manse!" ("Long live Korea!" or, literally, "10,000 years!"). It was the chorus of a nationwide independence movement, and Koreans would gather to shout it and wave the national flag.

The movement sparked ongoing conflict between some of the Japanese and Korean villagers, and finally, on April 15, the Japanese authorities summoned about 30 villagers to the church, shot them, and burned down the church.

Despite the cruelty of the deed, many Koreans accuse Japan of remaining indifferent to it and other atrocities committed by Japan during the colonial period. In 1999, Kaname Takado, a popular figure in Japanese theater who had a long interest in Korean history, asked the Korean playwright, Lee Ban, to write a play about the massacre. "Ah, Je-amri!" premiered last year in Tokyo.

The play, which Mr. Takado produced, was directed by Tooru Uchida and is performed by Japanese actors. It approaches the incident from the retrospective view of the people who lost their families and friends in the killings.

It is set some time after the tragic incident. A Japanese minister proposes building a church for the village to apologize for the cruel deed committed by his people. The proposal causes a deep rift between the villagers, some of whom favor the suggestion and some who cannot forgive the deaths of their families and neighbors. The barbarity of the Japanese deeds is described without flinching, but in the end, the villagers accept the gesture.

At this point, near the end of the play, comes cheoyongmu, a traditional Korean dance that dates back to the Silla Dynasty. It celebrates acceptance of the good and rejection of the bad. Choi Sook-hee, a Korean performer, does this dance to symbolize forgiveness and mutual understanding between the villagers.

"Ah, Je-amri!" received a lukewarm reception at its premier performnace in Japan last year. Mr. Uchida said his primary aim was not to stir emotions but to compel the public to think about their history once again.

The play will be performed in Japanese with Korean subtitles. Tickets cost 20,000 won ($16) or 15,000 won.

For reservations, visit English speakers can call Moon Kun-jin at 02-578-1101.

by Park So-young

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