American draws rebuke from sex slave projectAbout a year has passed since American amateur film director Anthony Gilmore decided to create a documentary about a subject he believed had never been addressed before by Western filmmakers ― Korean sex slaves forced to serve the Japanese army during World War II.
When the news got out that Mr. Gilmore was making a film on the issue, he received hate mail, mostly from Japanese nationalists who insist that such incidents never occurred. Some challenged him, asking why an “American would care to intervene in a matter that concerns Asian countries.”
“It was an expected response,” the 27-year-old director from Nebraska said. “Koreans say different things, Japanese say different things. Despite all that, it is a fact that the ‘comfort women’ are still alive and brave enough to come forward and tell us it is an issue to be considered from human rights and women’s rights views.”
After majoring in communications and theater at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, Mr. Gilmore came to Korea in 2002 and took Korean studies at Korea University’s Graduate School of International Studies. There, he learned about Korean female victims of World War II. After hearing that many of them still regularly protest in front of the Japanese Embassy, it inspired him to research the issue further.
“There are a handful of civic groups that demand a sincere apology from the Japanese government, but it is sad there is not enough mutual understanding among the Korean public that this is a matter the whole country should confront,” he said.
In addition to interviews with former Korean sex slaves of World War II and Japanese veterans who abused them, the documentary centers around Ms. Kang, a 77-year-old woman who was a sex slave in 1943 and was kept at a so-called “comfort” station in Mudanjiang, China. Despite her age, she is still actively participates in the movement to gain an official apology and compensation from the Japanese government.
More disturbingly, the film has an interview with an 85-year-old Japanese man named Kaneko-san who admits carrying out numerous atrocities during the war. Parts of his testimony include statements such as, “Women were never allowed time to clean up after each sexual encounter.”
Mr. Gilmore said his film aims to inform people who have never heard of the issue before, just as he knew nothing of it a couple of years ago. He is working with a staff of graduate students whose nationalities include Koreans, Americans and Japanese studying here.
Gu Su-jeong, whose major is the haegeum ― a type of Korean violin ― said she wanted to add some sad haegeum melodies during interviews of former comfort women.
“I have never played haegeum for a film before, but I am glad that I could help participating in a meaningful documentary,” she said. She is performing for free like the rest of the staff.
Recently, he met with some of his staff to put the finishing touches to the rough cut of the film, which is expected to be released by September. The title of the film is “Behind Forgotten Eyes.”
“We have made press releases, done interviews and maybe someone will be interested in buying our film,” said Park Tae-woo, a staff member. “But our goal is to show this film at an independent film festival instead of making it into a popular film.”
Mr. Park is also a student studying with Mr. Gilmore at Korea University. The two convinced the school to financially assist them to make the film. They also raised funds. But they ended up spending more of their own money to travel back and forth between Korea and Japan to make the film.
Mr. Gilmore said he is also preparing a thesis on same issue. He said he wonders what role the United States had in this matter and why it took so long for the issue to become more widely known and why there have never been any English-language documentaries on the issue.
“I found so much more data on this issue in the Philippines and the public was so aware of this issue,” he said. “I wonder why only a few activists are interested in this issue in Korea.”
by Lee Min-a