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Sexual Slavery in “The Apology” Film by Hsiung Essay

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Updated: May 25th, 2021

Despite the development of technology and legal principles, critical issues such as famine, forced prostitution, and women’s powerlessness still shake the world. These problems become more notable during wars and economic crises, making the good and the great stoop to any methods that guarantee ghostly stability. The Apology, directed by Tiffany Hsiung in 2016, is devoted to one example of such political moves, the creation of comfort stations in Japanese colonies during the Second World War. The film demonstrates three women’s efforts made for demanding legal reparations, increase social awareness, and cope with unforgettable memories – the activities that, to some extent, keep them alive.

The documentary being discussed focuses on the experiences of three women, the survivors of military sexual slavery in China, South Korea, and the Republic of the Philippines. These people’s eye-opening stories seem even more shocking if the scale of the problem is considered – at least two hundred thousand women in Asia were forced into prostitution during wartime (Hsiung). Comfort women, the euphemistic term for sex slaves, were poor people from Asian countries occupied due to the rise of Nazism in Japan (Hsiung).

People in Japan were recognized as Honorary Aryans (the status given by the German Nazis), which shaped their understanding of the less significant role of other Asians. Considering its neighbors as expendable materials, the country committed a great number of war crimes, including the introduction of chongsindae practices discussed in the film.

The survivors’ stories are different in details but share a lot of common features in terms of consequences for the psychological health and the degree of publicity. Adela, Gil, and Cao nicknamed “grandmas,” use various strategies to cope with their hard memories. Grandma Gil regularly attends the so-called Wednesday Demonstration near the Japanese Embassy in South Korea and manages to stay strong in spite of her health issues (Hsiung).

Grandma Cao, a former Chinese comfort woman, lives in a rural area and finds harmony in household chores and being independent of her daughter. Grandma Adela was forced into prostitution in 1942, she is an active member of the Lola Kampanera Group, a support group for sexual slavery survivors (Hsiung). Thus, women with similar experiences choose various coping methods.

Without exaggeration, the Apology reveals the existing problems of former comfort women and the transnational negative experiences of any women who have been raped. For instance, Grandma Adela is afraid of telling her family about her past experiences – to conceal the truth, she has to lie that she is just a supporter, not a former slave (Hsiung). It is demonstrated in many cases that militarism and colonialism are inherent in the unjust distribution of power, economic inequality, and the exploitation of the poor (Sarah Soh 113).

During the last decades of the nineteenth century, militarization in Japan reached its peak, and the demand for comfort women dramatically increased in the country and its colonies because of the Sino- and Russo-Japanese Wars (Sarah Soh 113). According to Sarah Soh, the development of the comfort system in Japan and the colonies derived from “the dynamics of capitalism, militarism, and a sexual-cultural order” (115). Therefore, the culture of shaming and inequality are among the largest problems linked to rape.

The tendencies listed above had a severe impact on the lives of the three grandmas interviewed in the film. All of them were economically disadvantaged and, instead of getting the promised jobs, the women were forced to become prostitutes. The feature that captures the attention of the audience is other people’s varying attitudes to the problem. There is no doubt that recruiting women into prostitution cannot be positive for their life and health, but in fact, there are opinions that military prostitution in Japan was a strategy reducing the cases of civilian rape (Chung 223). The topic of silencing the problems of former comfort women and making them guilty of being exploited is thoroughly addressed in the film being analyzed, which makes it valuable for any rape survivors.

The documentary and other materials devoted to the topic demonstrate how youth and attractiveness were turned into goods in imperial Japan. Those related to the functioning of comfort stations (also referred to as rape stations) were ready to take a range of measures to make the “services” safer for soldiers, paying no attention to the mental health of prostituted women. With the introduction of official brothel policies in Japan in the 1930s, the number of comfort stations in China and other colonized countries significantly increased, and its results changed the lives of many girls, depriving them of happy childhood (Chung 222).

Grandma Adela was first raped at the age of fourteen, and Grandma Cao told about hundreds of girls from her native village who was kidnapped and sexually exploited (Hsiung). “The rule of male sex right” turned women’s bodies into consumable goods that were kept in proper condition with the help of regular medical examinations, special treatments, and strict policies (Sarah Soh 118). Thus, the manipulated “need” to establish such stations was one of the worst manifestations of the patriarchal rule and objectification.

In the end, Hsiung’s work collects numerous facts to show the nature of militarism and colonialism and the ways to turn the truth about exploitation into messages aimed at shaming rape survivors. Importantly, the director chooses the right methods to appeal to the audience when she emphasizes the grandmothers’ facts of life instead of focusing on diverse statistical facts. Showing their everyday life and efforts in their true colors, she helps create an understanding of the enormous spread of injustice.

Works Cited

Chung, Chin Sung. “The Origin and Development of the Military Sexual Slavery Problem in Imperial Japan.” Positions: East Asia Cultures Critique, vol. 5, no. 1, 1997, pp. 219-255.

Hsiung, Tiffany, director. The Apology. The National Film Board of Canada, 2016.

Sarah Soh, Chunghee. The Comfort Women: Sexual Violence and Postcolonial Memory in Korea and Japan. The University of Chicago Press, 2008.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Sexual Slavery in "The Apology" Film by Hsiung." May 25, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/sexual-slavery-in-the-apology-film-by-hsiung/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'Sexual Slavery in "The Apology" Film by Hsiung'. 25 May.

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