Forced prostitution and the exploitation of women, especially the financially disadvantaged ones, are among social problems with severe long-term consequences. As is clear from human history, the scale of such issues increases with the aggravation of inter-state conflicts.
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One of the brightest examples of this tendency is the creation of comfort stations under Japanese imperial rule. The bloodcurdling stories of these brothels’ survivors are shown in the Apology, Tiffany Hsiung’s documentary featuring the lives of three victims of Japanese imperialism. The focus on these people’s stories helps to show the long-term psychological consequences of the sex trade and explain current political controversies between Japan and its former occupied territories.
The Apology is a documentary that presents a range of strong arguments against the normalization of prostitution. Be it forced or not, the sex trade is always detrimental to its victims, which is shown by Hsiung. The film introduces the stories of Gil, Cao, and Adela, who were kidnapped by Japanese occupants in China, the Philippines, and South Korea (Hsiung). These women live in dissimilar economic conditions, but the thing that unites them is the inability to forget Japanese soldiers’ cruelty and impunity.
The things told by the former comfort women who agreed to participate in the project indicate that inequality, violence, and exploitation are the usual satellites of imperialism and militarism. Despite the attempts of some Japanese historians to belittle the number of comfort station victims in the Asia-Pacific region, the characters’ confessions reveal the problem’s enormous size. For instance, Adela from the Philippines mentions that she was among the hundreds of girls raped by foreign soldiers (Hsiung).
Grandma Cao, a Chinese village resident, lives not far away from the building where the local comfort station was organized. According to the woman, many of her fellow citizens from the village were forced into prostitution or killed. The former sex slaves’ stories align with more modern estimates of the number of female victims of the military prostitution system that range from two to four hundred thousand people (Hsiung).
The problem of military prostitution discussed in the film is inherent in the patriarchal stereotypes about sexuality and the objectification of women. First, judging from the survivors’ messages, they were treated as a type of military equipment that could operate properly or become broken, and no attention was paid to their emotional suffering. Importantly, the system of military brothels was supported by the officially existing policies accepted by the Japanese government prior to the outrage of the Second World War (Sarah Soh 115).
In strongly patriarchal societies, inequality in terms of sexual life can reach its peak and be manifested in the normalization of physical violence, one of the ways to stamp the male’s authority. The survivors’ testimonies demonstrate the tendency – apart from being raped up to forty times a day, the women were systematically beaten up despite the existing norms of behavior for clients.
The documentary contains numerous scenes that depict the characters’ relationships with their families and show how rape victims’ sufferings impact their future plans. All of them were tortured as teenagers, and it had a severe impact on their attitudes toward men. Adela managed to battle her fear of men and get married, but she was not ready to tell her husband and son about her life at the comfort station in the City of Roxas.
Cao’s personal life was also warped because of the imperialist aspirations of Japan as she had to kill both of her children conceived in a military brothel. As for Gil, a woman who was born in North Korea, she was kidnapped and separated from her family at the age of thirteen (Hsiung). Even after the liberation, she was unable to reunite with her family due to the closure of the border after the division of Korea. As it appears from these examples, the growth of militarism in Japan deprived thousands of women of happy marital relationships, the ability to have their own children, and mental health.
The stories included in Hsiung’s project point at a great contrast between the feigned well-meaningness of the military comfort strategy realized by Japan and its real consequences. The creation of comfort stations was claimed to pursue “noble” objectives such as the prevention of rape and decreasing the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases that could affect soldiers’ combat capabilities (Chung 223).
Forced prostitution is different from rape only due to men’s pecuniary obligations, and comfort stations could only cause an increase in suicide rates in young women. It is worthy of note that prostitutes in Japan needed to be at least eighteen years old, but the actual age range of kidnapped girls was quite different from that (Chung 228). For example, Adela, Gil, and Cao were between thirteen and fourteen years old when they were taken to comfort stations (Hsiung). All Hsiung’s interviewees claim that they were promised factory jobs or just kidnapped and raped, which aligns with the facts acknowledged by the Japanese government (Chung 228). Thus, the documentary also sheds light upon the methods of mobilization used by the owners of comfort stations.
To sum it up, the documentary is a good source of information about the consequences of the imperial rule of Japan. As a director, Hsiung successfully links historical facts about military sexual exploitation at comfort stations to the relationships between Japan and its former colonies in the twenty-first century. The emotional scenes that depict each survivor’s strategies to minimize stress and obtain justice emphasize the significance of the topic.
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.
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Sarah Soh, Chunghee. The Comfort Women: Sexual Violence and Postcolonial Memory in Korea and Japan. The University of Chicago Press, 2008.