Film Review: THE APOLOGY (Canada 2016) ***

the_apology_movie_poster.jpgTHE APOLOGY

Director: Tiffany Hsiung
Writer: Tiffany Hsiung

Two important reasons why a documentary should be made are the uniqueness of the subjects or stories that need be to told. For THE APOLOGY, the subjects are – as the titles inform at the start of the film – ‘grandmas’ or ‘comfort women’. These are the young Asian girls (Chinese, Korean, Filipino) who are forced into the sex slave trade by he Japanese during the Japanese occupation. The Japanese are clearly the hated villains in the piece. Hsiung makes sure the point gets across. Unrepentant, the Japs, especially the politicians claim that the trade was necessary and show no remote sign of remorse.

The director of this importance piece, a NFB (National Film Board) production is appropriately Asian – Tiffany Hsiung, who will be present to take questions from the audience in Toronto on December 6 and 8, with Q&As at both Toronto and Vancouver screenings as well.

THE APOLOGY follows the personal journeys of three “grandmothers” (almost equal screen time devoted to each) — Grandma Gil in South Korea, Grandma Cao in China, and Grandma Adela in the Philippines. Some 70 years after their imprisonment in so-called “comfort stations,” the grandmothers face their twilight years in fading health. As former “comfort women,” they were among the 200,000 girls and young women kidnapped and forced into military sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. After decades of living in silence and shame about their past, they know that time is running out to give a first-hand account of the truth and ensure that this horrific chapter of history is not forgotten. Whether they are seeking a formal apology from the Japanese government or summoning the courage to finally share their secret with loved ones, their resolve moves them forward as they seize this last chance to set future generations on a course for reconciliation, healing, and justice.

Hsuing occasionally resorts to sentimentality when she choses to film the tears of the grandmothers or their family or even the audience listing to the stories during press conferences. There is no need to. The stories are strong enough.

There is always something very moving about watching elderly ladies on the screen (especially when they are laughing) or on stage. Their craggy features and deep voices relay that these are human beings with important stories to tell from their experiences. When they are especially older, with ailments that inhibit their ability to walk or hear or see, the effects are even greater.

Will the grandmothers win their much sought of apology at the end? The fact that the Japanese are so stubborn is a curiosity. They have committed so much bad deeds during the World War II and in the past, much worse in Asia (according to many Asians) than the Nazis, that apologizing would only show them to be a more sympathetic race and not hurt their reputation.

THE APOLOGY is a deeply moving documentary that was both the the runner-up for the important audience Award at the 2016 Toronto Hot Doc Fest and the Winner of the Cinephile Award for best Documentary a South Korea’s Busan’s International Film Festival.



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