Entertainment

Seventy years on, silence 'is a cycle' for victims of sexual slavery

In the new documentary The Apology, Toronto filmmaker Tiffany Hsuing meets three grandmothers who uncover their experiences as “comfort women”.

Grandma Adela makes a difficult phone call to her son Eric in The Apology. The documentary focuses on the stories of three former “comfort women” who were kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army.

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Grandma Adela makes a difficult phone call to her son Eric in The Apology. The documentary focuses on the stories of three former “comfort women” who were kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army.

It’s difficult to imagine, but even 70 years after the end of World War II, there are still women fighting for a simple acknowledgement of the torture and abuse they endured during the hostility.

In the new documentary The Apology, Toronto filmmaker Tiffany Hsuing meets three grandmothers who uncover their experiences as “comfort women” — the so-called name for 200,000 girls who were kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army — an atrocity that is as reprehensible as it is barely recognized by the Japanese government to this day.

“Silence is a cycle. It gets passed down from generation to generation,” explained Hsuing about the stigma that oppressed comfort women for decades until South Korean organizations began prodding Japanese officials in the 1980s.

“This happened well before the grandmothers — this was a choice that it was better to stay quiet; to hold on to this yourself than to ever speak about it,” said Hsuing. “We should feel that we live in a society where this is okay to share and to talk about.”

Although focused on the stories of three former comfort women, Hsuing hopes her seven-year production also resonates for younger audiences. To accomplish that feat, she attempted to play down historical documentation in lieu of the grandmothers’ contemporary quest for formal recognition and acceptance of the tragedy.

“Sexual slavery is still going on in countries where war is happening but human trafficking (is) happening right in our own backyard here in Canada,” said Hsuing of the film’s relevance. “Sexual violence is here amongst us and survivors are still trying to come out with their stories.”

Hsuing references the recent Jian Ghomeshi case or Bill Cosby’s sexual assault suit to exemplify the pressure for survivors to stay silent. Indeed, The Apology may target a black mark from the 1940s, but its message is clearly prescient today.

“We play a role in perpetuating that shame and perpetuating that silence, so yes, this film aims to encourage and empower the younger generation to speak out of their own experience,” said Hsuing.  “But also to encourage our society — how do we support survivors, people who have gone through sexual violence, and create a space where they don’t feel shame?”