An Interview with Yang Yonghi (Director)
A Small Unity within the Family
Q: What is the story behind the making of this film?
YY: When I was in my twenties, I went through a rebellious stage against my father. My background weighed heavily on me. After my father realized that his daughter’s values were different from his, he stopped eating with me. There are many kinds of zainichi families, but both of my parents are in the administration of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) and they have given their sons to North Korea—it’s like blind devotion to Kim Il-sung. I’ve always wished we were a bit more normal as a zainichi family.
When I turned thirty, I began to realize that I found the news and stories about actual living people to be more interesting than fiction dramas. At nearly the same time, I also began to think that my own family was quite interesting. I guess I was able to step back a little. That was ten years ago. It was then that someone pointed me to the camera. Someone also recommended YIDFF to me, and I started to attend the festival. I was very inspired by the fact that there were so many people in the world who were filming their own families and their own selves. And my family is probably just as interesting a subject (laughs). And I casually thought, wouldn’t it be great if I could do something too? The festival in Yamagata was like going to documentary school for me, and every two years I would go just to watch movies. It has been my dream and goal to one day have my own work screened at YIDFF, so I’m very happy this year. It’s finally happening. It did take me ten years though.
Q: While this film addresses issues of zainichi and North Korea, it is also the story of a father’s life and his daughter, the director.
YY: In the past I felt rebellious against the way my father lived, but the passing of time has given me perspective. From my point of view, I couldn’t understand how he could be so charmed by Kim Il-sung even though he is from Jeju Island in South Korea. Trying to see it from his position, I suppose he made his choice because of the period he had lived in, before I was born. I was in ideological opposition with my father; we were incompatible in some ways.
But in the end, my father told me “I’ll accept your choice. Go and change your nationality.” First, he accepted my decision to change my nationality to South Korean, making leaving and entering Japan much easier. Finally, just when I thought I would be able to communicate with my father, he fell ill. Seeing this, my friend told me, “Yonghi, you’ve finally achieved a small unity in your family.” I was very happy when I heard that. It’s a matter of accepting each other and living together, without denying or accusing each other. You say without coercing each other, “Okay, that’s what you think, but this is the way I think.”
Each person being themselves, but talking face-to-face, accepting each other. And eating together as parent and child—if that is how difficult it is for just one family, a country might go around proclaiming, “unity, unity!” but it must really be difficult. But perhaps this is what it means to coexist—that’s something I feel I learned from my father.
Q: What plans do you have for the future?
YY: I want to make something that starts a dialogue. After watching it, you’d go out drinking and say, “You know, my dad also . . .” You’d discuss the relationship between yourself and your family. It’s a work that allows you to talk about people not as “strangers,” but as if you can put yourself in their position. That is the kind of film I’d like to make.
(Compiled by Hikino Nagisa)
Interviewers: Hikino Nagisa, Inotani Yoshika
Photography: Sato Hiroaki / Video: Kato Takanobu / 2005-09-30 / in Tokyo