A split identity reunited behind the camera

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A split identity reunited behind the camera

It took Tanaka Fumihito 10 years to compile “The Man with Two Names,” a documentary that traces the life of Korean cinematographer Kim Hak-seong, who worked for Japanese producers during the colonial regime under the name Kanai Seichi.
By the time Mr. Fumihito finished editing and held his premier at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival last fall, he found that much of the film itself was out of context: He was speaking to a generation of Japanese that was only remotely aware of Korea’s colonial history.
“To them, the idea of Korea is focused on entertainers from a developed country who show up in many Japanese commercials in glitzy outfits,” says Mr. Fumihito, who visited Korea last week. “It’s hard for them to imagine that Korea has such a different past from Japan just 60 years ago. They can’t seem to admit it.”
The film, which had a local premier during the Jeonju International Film Festival last week as part of a special screening of Korean-Japanese filmmakers, had a different reception in Korea. It was perceived with much less suspicion, as if to clarify the position of victims and oppressors of the nation’s colonial history, which lasted 35 years.
A similar line of thought runs through the interviews of people from both nations.
The film, which focuses the life of the late cameraman, first as a Japanese subject named Kanai Seichi, and later as the Korean citizen Kim Hak-seong, presents a divided view of the same artist.
The director tracked down producers and actors who had worked on the same production as the Korean cameraman during the 1920s and ’30s. Yet, few seem to clearly remember Kim’s existence. A Japanese child actor from the period recalled him, saying, “Kim dressed really well, like a modern man.”
But to the rest, he seemed part of their forgotten past.
It’s when Mr. Fumihito switches the focus to directors, families and friends of Kim in Korea that he finally gets a poignant illustration of the late cameraman.
“When I met Chung Il-seong [a cinematographer who knew Kim], he yelled at me, saying ‘do you know this man, do you know how we’ve lived?’” he says. “He was very aggressive about a Japanese man filming a story about the time. At one point, he said to me, ‘Koreans in that situation either had to be pigs or stupid in order to have survived.’”
It’s evident that Kim has held a certain degree of guilt for having collaborated with the Japanese. (He also shot a number of propaganda films for Japan, although that is not included in the documentary.)
During the Korean War, Kim volunteered to work as a cameraman for a war correspondent. When he came back to the Korean film industry in the 1960s, he deliberately seems to have focused on films that delved heavily into issues of national identity such as “Aimless Bullet,” a film about disillusioned war veterans set in the shambles of Seoul after the war.
It’s meaningless to view the film as trying to decide whether Kim was a pro- or anti-Japanese. In fact, Mr. Fumihito, who has worked for NHK in the past, kept the political nuances of the film deliberately vague.
“The Man with Two Names” reflects the public mentality of Koreans during the colonial regime as being torn between the hard choice of living life with the dignity of an artist or the dignity of a Korean national.

by Park Soo-mee
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