Promotional material for Twenty-two featuring (from left) Wang Zhifeng, Fu Meiju and Li Meijin Photo: Courtesy of Guo Ke
It can be one of the hardest things to dig up a past one would rather forget. Yet, some history will end up fading away if we ignore the tragedies of the past.
In the spirit of remembering the tragedies of the past in the hopes they will never happen again, a documentary featuring 22 Chinese "comfort women" premiered in Chinese mainland theaters Monday, which also marks the International Memorial Day for "Comfort Women."
The film, Twenty-two, was directed by Guo Ke.
Originally Guo intended to shoot a feature film based on the story of Wei Shaolan and her half Japanese son Luo Shanxue. Wei was forced into sexual slavery as a "comfort woman" by Japanese forces in 1944 at the age of 20. She was fortunate enough to escape her captors three months later, but soon found that she was pregnant with a Japanese soldier's child.
"When I met Wei, I was shocked by her outlook on life. She was optimistic and always looking at the world in a beautiful light," Guo told the Global Times, adding that his meeting with her challenged his previous idea that Wei would be miserable after her experiences.
Guo ended up exploring Wei's story in the short documentary Thirty-two, named after the number of former "comfort women" who were still living in 2012.
It is estimated that in the Chinese mainland alone, some 200,000 women and girls were forced to become "comfort women" by Japanese forces.
When Guo learned that this number dropped to 22 in a mere year's time, he decided that it was time someone record their stories in film.
Over the next year, Guo and his team would travel to five provinces throughout China to meet and document these women's experiences.
"There are only eight of them still alive today," Guo noted.
Guo's project has received support as well as objections from Chinese society, with objectors stating that interviewing these women and having them relive their past pain is unnecessarily cruel.
Answering these doubts, Guo said that his documentary is more about how these aged women looked at the world in 2014 than it is about digging up painful moments.
"It was just like listening to my grandma tell us stories as a child," Guo said, adding that he never pressured the women to continue if they did not wish to.
Guo explained that while younger generations tend to get angry when they talking about the history of "comfort women," those he interviewed, like Wei, were optimistic about life. He mentioned that one of the women was shown a picture of a elderly former Japanese soldier and to his surprise, she just giggled and said, "That Japanese man is old too. Look he barely has any mustache left."
According to Guo, while the plight of China's "comfort women" has often been talked about, the women themselves have not been taken care of very well.
"They are only remembered by their identity as 'comfort women.' No one knows their real names or what their situation is like today," Guo noted, explaining that showing these women as individuals was one of the main motivations behind making his film.