An Interview with Kim Sung-woong (Director)
Story of “Hanme” I Was Destined to Meet
Q: It’s a film that is enjoyable to watch and makes you feel good. How did you come to film the “hanme” (elderly women), the main characters in the piece?
KS: The immediate reason was my mother’s death in 1999. She was a so-called first-generation zainichi (Korean living in Japan), and I realized that I didn’t really know much about her life. Then in Kawasaki I encountered the zainichi elderly women who became the main focus for this film. They are also first-generation zainichi. Perhaps they had something in common with aspects of my own mother. For another project, I was filming social workers at a community center in Kawasaki, and I happened to follow the elderly women on a shopping trip to a supermarket. And I saw them making a big fuss over trying on swimming suits. I wanted to film these women who were so attractive. One thing led to another, and I ended up spending four years filming the women.
Q: In this work, there isn’t much about the history of zainichi or suffering and being at the mercy of politics.
KS: Until now, first-generation zainichi have been mainly discussed in terms of representing the past, as in giving historical testimonials. As I just happened to encounter these elderly women, I wanted first and foremost to show them not as zainichi, but rather how they are today. I thought that the way they’ve lived their lives comes across through the strength of the images without a lot of explanation. To depict the present I asked about their dreams, and their straightforward replies were how it was like a dream just to have food on the table, to have a family, to live normally. Hearing this, I realized that these people had really lived punishing lives. I wanted even more to show them living to the absolutely fullest these moments that they’d finally gotten after living seventy, eighty years, rather than explaining their past as if I understood it. Of course, their lives haven’t been all niceties, and they have lived through the kind of turbulent history shown in The Story of Koreans in Postwar Japan: Zainichi, a film in which I was involved. In fact, I heard a lot of pain in their stories. One woman talked about the extreme hardship she lived through, separated from her homeland after being conscripted to work in Japan and being unable to return after the war. Even though she’d lived with a sense of pride in serving her homeland to the best of her ability, she’d seen that pride torn to shreds in the political climate of late. But even the more so, I was moved by the way these women live in the present with strength and suppleness. And within each wrinkle and smile, I wanted to carefully capture on film their depth and strength as people.
Q: What kind of film did this turn out to be for you?
KS: When I first encountered these elderly zainichi women, I was trying to find a film project for myself, building off the momentous experience of being involved in the film The Story of Koreans in Postwar Japan: Zainichi. Thinking back on it, they were in good health for only about three years after that, and so it was like I was destined to meet them and make this work. It was a precious event in my life to have encountered the boundless energy possessed by these elderly women who have lived out their lives without any opportunities for education, within the gaps of history. I hope many people get to see this film.
(Compiled by Kato Hatsuyo)
Interviewers: Kato Hatsuyo, Hashiura Taichi
Photography: Hashiura Taichi / Video: Kato Takanobu / 2005-09-22 / in Tokyo