A drama loosely based on the story of a resident Korean filmmaker and her pain of being separated from loved ones stuck in North Korea has been selected to represent Japan at the U.S. Academy Awards in February.
The Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan, an industry body formed by major film distributors, on Sept. 4 picked the semi-autobiographical drama “Kazoku no Kuni” (Our Homeland) by Yang Yong-hi for entry in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars.
The association is commissioned by the Los Angeles-based Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to select an entry for this category.
Promoters said it is the first time a movie directed by a woman has been chosen to represent Japan at the Oscars.
“I am surprised,” said Yang, an Osaka-born second-generation Korean resident, in a statement released by her publicist. “I made this film while giving up the inalienable right to meet my family. I hope the movie will serve as a catalyst that will help people think about the meaning of family.”
Yang is a documentary filmmaker who won international acclaim for accounts of her father, a senior official of pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryun), and her three older brothers who repatriated to North Korea, which severely curtails foreign travel. She has been effectively barred from visiting the reclusive state after she released her first film, “Dear Pyongyang” (2005).
Yang went on to release a second film, “Sona, the Other Myself,” (2011), focusing on her niece, using unused footage collected during earlier visits to North Korea.
“Kazoku no Kuni” revolves around her relationship with an older brother who left for North Korea under a repatriation program that started in the 1950s and ended in 1984. An estimated 90,000 ethnic Koreans emigrated from Japan to North Korea after assurances that a “Paradise on Earth” awaited them.
The film won the C.I.C.A.E. Panorama film award at the Berlin International Film Festival in February. It has been showing in Japan since Aug. 4.
The story follows a brief visit to Japan by Songho, a North Korean born in Japan who emigrated 25 years earlier to Pyongyang at the behest of his father, a senior Chongryun official. He returns to have a brain tumor treated.
During the visit, Songho is kept under constant surveillance by a North Korean minder as he tries to rekindle old friendships from years earlier. The film dissects the dilemma he confronts in being back in a free society once again.
Upcoming talent such as Sakura Ando and Arata Iura, as well as veteran actors Yoshiko Miyazaki and Taro Suwa, were assembled for the cast.
“For resident Koreans with families in North Korea, their loved ones are like hostages. They are forced to mask their true feelings, fearing they could cause problems for those in the North,” Yang said in a recent interview upon the release of “Kazoku no Kuni.”
“I want to speak up. I want people to realize what those who went to North Korea have had to put up with. No life should be allowed to be forgotten,” she said.
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