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[Opinion] The Japanese Wave

Posted March. 27, 2007 07:29,   


The “Japanese wave” is growing in Korea. Young Koreans have been increasingly reading Japanese novels since a few years ago, and sales of Japanese novels actually exceeded those of their Korean counterparts last year. Staring with the Japanese novel frenzy, Japanese pop culture is making inroads into the Korean cultural content market as well. For instance, the recent hit movie “200-pound Beauty” and the TV drama “The Great White Tower” are both based on original Japanese versions.

Producers at Korean broadcasting companies in the 1980s used to run to Busan or Japan wherever they need to revise their programming because they could watch Japanese TV shows in Busan which is close to Japan. They stayed in their hotel rooms for days, squeezing ideas, watching Japanese TV shows. Indeed, the Japanese wave existed back then, but the “Korean wave” has overwhelmed the Japanese wave since 2000.

Now, Koreans producers are flying for Japan again to obtain ideas for their shows and gain access to originals. Looking back, the Korean drama “What Is Love?” (1992) was successful in China because it showed Korean families’ patriarchal side, which disappeared in China. Another TV drama, “Winter Sonata” (2002) touched the Japanese with a story of devoted love. And there has been no next big hit drama. The strength of Japanese novels is diversity and imagination. There is a wide range of writers, from pure literature writers to popular novelists. It is no surprise that Korean producers lacking ideas are eyeing them.

Pop culture thrives on a rich literature. The movie “Harry Potter” exists because there was the novel “Harry Potter.” Korean literature has been obsessed with heavy political and social issues, including ideology, national division and suffering in these turbulent times. While writers had such a narrow perspective, concerns of readers have shifted toward “fun reading” and “individual life.” As a result, Korean literature gave way to Japanese literature. The playwright Eugene Ionesco once said, “Ideology is the enemy of artists which reduces their imagination.” It seems that his words have materialized here in Korea. It is time to revitalize Korean literature, although it is unclear if the revitalization will be possible in a short period of time.

Hong Chan-sik, Editorial Writer, chansik@donga.com