Japanese occupation Korea over the course of decades had significant impacts on the country’s film industry. “This period of Korea’s ‘occupied cinema’ is best understood within these multiple contexts created by the pressures exerted by a variety of cultural forces – an authoritarian government, the market and the film industry, the self-fulfilling power of the audience, and standing behind all these, the underlying power of the text” (Yecies & Shim, 2012, p. 42). Aspects of censure and government intervention were evident in the process of film production and entertainment cultures, such as movie-viewing practices and use of cinemas as public spaces.
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The spring of the Korean Peninsula serves as an affirmation of Japanese influences on Korea. A plot centering on the making of a film based on a traditional Korean story is substantially permeated with Japanese cultural domination. For example, there is a forced insertion of the language as dialogue can rapidly switch from Korean to Japanese, along with subtitles in both languages played on-screen during release. Japanese cinema and its techniques are referenced as well to represent as a forceful cultural occupation was consuming Korea’s identity.
In the waning years of Japanese occupation during World War II, Korean film distributors were either closed or merged under the control of the government-controlled Chosun Film Production Corporation. “Keeping a tight grip on Korean cinema by centralizing production and distribution, the Japanese Government-General of Korea produced only films propagandizing militarism” (Kim & Han, 2007, p. 77).
Like a movie with a plot centered on film production, Spring of the Korean Peninsula explores the struggles that Korean cinema and its dedicated professionals had to undergo. There were evident financial struggles without a proper support system in place from the studio. Talented individuals were struggling to fulfill their careers.
Finally, there are scenes exemplifying Japanese control and censorship. At times, the flow of the film seems to be interrupted by forced propaganda, which seeks to justify the occupation and praise Japanese leadership. In the film, the formation of the Japanese-controlled production company is emphasized as a saving grace for Korean filmmakers. It is implied that the closeness of the national film industries, reflective of the forced geopolitical unification, is a pathway to opportunity and modernization of local cinema.
Despite the overwhelming control of the filmmaking process, the Spring of the Korean Peninsula is able to provide subtle social commentary. It presents a dual view of Korean identity in the light of Japanese occupation. The passion and desire for modernism and social progress within the core Korean population are juxtaposed with the oppressive somberness of colonial fascism. This provides political commentary about the inherent inferiority and lack of enlightenment under colonial rule.
Thus, it encourages moderate resistance from Koreans who are suffering similar strifes to the film’s characters. Notably, the protagonist is not seen during the propaganda filled climax of the film, reading about it in a newspaper. It shows the stark difference between a Japanese induced fictional narrative and the actual realities of life in the occupation.
Kim, M.H., & Han, J. (Eds.). (2007). Korean cinema: From origins to renaissance. Seoul, South Korea: KOFIC Publications.
Yecies, B., & Shim, A. (2012). Korea’s occupied cinemas, 1893-1948. Abingdon, UK: Routledge.