The Apology is a documentary that follows the lives of three Asian grandmothers. They are survivors of sexual slavery from WWII, also known as Comfort Women. It is a term referring to women that were either lured or kidnapped during the war and forced into sexual slavery. The victims range in ages from 9-24 yrs old. They would be kept in rooms and used like tools. Some women were held up to four years.
The Japanese government has never offered any apologies regarding these atrocities, nor have they publicly acknowledged any responsibility. It has been estimated that over 200,000 Comfort Women have been the victims of these deplorable crimes.
Documentary filmmaker Tiffany Hsiung has been following the lives of three grandmothers for the last six years. She resides in Toronto and spoke to me through skype.
“I’ve never heard of this particular part of history. Can you tell me why this story hasn’t come out sooner?”
“The survivors of these atrocities tend to remain silent for years, sometimes never telling anyone. They feel shamed and are afraid if they do say anything that it could result in more questions regarding the truth and why they haven’t spoken up sooner. Some have never told their family out of fear of rejection. Others feel it could prevent them from ever being married.”
I was extremely grateful for the opportunity to watch a screener of the documentary. My heart however took a beating when I soon realized that the survivors have been waiting six decades for an apology that never came. The scope and magnitude of the damage cannot be measured. Each survivor has been impacted differently. Tiffany Hsiung intentionally chose the stories of three grandmothers from different countries to demonstrate that it isn’t an isolated atrocity.
Grandmother Gil is from Seoul Korea, grandmother Cao is from Chine and grandmother Adela is from the Philippines. Their stories are slightly different but the crimes are the same. They are bonded by their traumatic and horrific emotional scars. Each grandmother has been on a perilous journey for acknowledgement, justice and reparations. They are now in their 80’s and 90’s. The spirit however has championed on to inform and educate the new generation of women so that it can never happen again.
There has only been a few cases in the early 1940’s where some Dutch survivors of the Japanese Imperial Army had been acknowledged and paid reparations for the sexual violence and horrifying atrocities. They had the backing of the Dutch government. The Asian victims did not have the same support. Peace Treaties had later been written up and signed between the countries so they could move on and forward. Having lost so much in the war and with very few allies, they wanted to sweep it under the carpet and not have to deal with more shame.
Tiffany sees the conflict as a contemporary issue in the sense that it still happens daily to other victims of sexual violence, especially in wartimes. Women and children are considered indispensable. There is always going to be casualties and rape. They remain silent with shame. It’s only after other victims have spoken up about their accusers, that they feel brave enough to come forward and give their own testimonies. They don’t feel alone anymore. Much like the Cosby and Jian Ghomeshi victims.
Tiffany wanted to tell the story through their eyes and to look at their lives today and inspire and empower others to come out with their own stories. After the grandmother in Seoul Korea came out in 1992 with her story, others began. Shortly after a hotline was set up. The grandmother in the Philippines came out and also encouraged other victims to follow.
Although others have spoken up in the 70’s and 80’s with a few cases being brought against the Japanese Gov. it wasn’t until 1992 that it finally became a national movement. First in Korea, then in other countries.
Some of the women that became pregnant from the soldiers decided to keep their babies and others had undergone operations to render them sterile. Some had gotten life long diseases and others have committed suicide. After the war, some of them have never been reunited with their families. Especially with North and South Korea separating.
“To watch their incredible resilience today and see them laugh, crack jokes or watch them interact with their families and other grandmothers. This is the power of their story, to see the human spirit still surviving.
For those unaware of the history, the stories are horrific.
This documentary carves out a way to go on the journey with them and to really be lost in their lives and make it incredibly relatable. There are so many aspects of what these women went through that everyone can take a piece from it if they like and know what it feels like and means.”
Tiffany’s research started in the summer of 2009 and finished in the spring of 2016 in time for the world premiere at Hot Docs. The grandmothers had all been flown in. It was overwhelming to see the sold out crowd packed into the theatre and how the audience responded so positively to it.
Tiffany started this journey with the intent of fighting for them and hoping for justice. Over the years and not seeing it happen has been frustrating and discouraging. Her faith is in the younger generation passing on the story, ensuring it never happens again and holding a legacy of these grandmothers. That is the justice Tiffany sees happening amongst all these demonstrations all around the world. Seeing the younger people coming out and learning about it.
This documentary is very emotionally gripping. It is revealing and shocking. It is terribly sad but incredibly inspirational. I recommend a stack of tissues for the emotional roller-coater. It is revealed in an intimate way with the music acting as a sedative.
It is produced by Anita Lee and will be screening at Vancity Theatre on Dec. 3rd and 4th. I encourage you all to go see it.