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Recovery of Korea-Japan ties start from festivals

Posted December. 18, 2014 03:21,   


One day in August, I received a phone call from a Japanese weekly magazine intent on Korea-bashing reports. "Mr. Wakamiya, I heard that you said you would sacrifice yourself to defense Dokdo from (Japan`s) Self-Defense Forces. Is it true?" I remembered the remarks that I made at a symposium in July in Seoul.

One person from the audience asked me, "Wouldn`t Japan mobilize Self-Defense Forces troops in an attempt to take Dokdo (from South Korea)?" I told him, "It is not possible. No Japanese would risk a war to take Takeshima (the Japanese name for Dokdo). If the Self-Defense Forces troops are mobilized, everybody will oppose it. I will risk sacrifice myself to prevent it from happening."

That last sentence prompted laughter and a big applause. But some people might have misunderstood what I meant. The magazine exactly quoted me but appalled me by adding a title, "Former Asahi Shimbun chief editor declares to defense Dokdo."

It was around that time when I watched the box office hit Korean film "The Battle of Myeongnyang." In the late 16th century, Japan sent its troops to Korea and had fierce battles across Joseon, not just on Takeshima. In the naval battle of Myeongnyang, Joseon Admiral Yi Sun-shin took the utmost advantage of his intelligence and courage to defeat a large-scale Japanese fleet with just 12 naval ships. It is understandable to see the spectators feel triumphant. The visual effects that depicted the fierce battle realistically were so energetic that they proved the technological prowess of Korean cinema.

My Korean friends say that the movie is not about antagonizing Japan but about desirable leadership. It may be true but I could not dispel complicated feelings because Japan was certainly the aggressor. However, the film also showed a Japanese military officer who blames a cruel colleague and a young Japanese samurai who defects to Admiral Yi and wins his trust.

The Korean side had its own complexities and seemed to clutch at a straw about things that are not black and white. Can this film be shown in Japan? The energetic naval battle scenes are definitely worth watching. Still, it would be difficult for this movie to be shown in Japan because before talking about the film`s cinematic advantages and disadvantages, the Japanese military officers played by Korean actors did not speak natural Japanese. Japanese audience would lose interest just for that factor. If the filmmakers were so adamant about making such realistic battle scenes, it would have been nicer if they poured some of energy into making the Japanese language in the move more realistic. If Korean filmmakers depict Japan more convincingly, it would not a distant dream for Japanese actors to star in them.

Can this type of film be jointly produced by South Korea and Japan? It is my ultimate wish to see the two countries to co-produce films such as "Ahn Jung-geun and Ito Hirobumi." Speaking of collaboration, the Korea-Japan Festival held recently at the KOEX hall in southern Seoul was a great success.

Marking the 10th anniversary of the festival`s launch, popular Japanese composer and pianist Ryo Yoshitama showed up at an event celebrating the eve of the festival. He performed together with Yiruma, a popular South Korean composer and pianist, fascinating the participants. There were pop music, folk music and dance performances. Juri Ueno, a Japanese actress who gained much popularity in South Korea for her role in "Nodame Cantabile" also joined the event. The festival had its grand finale with a dance party involving all participants from the two countries. Amid a passionate traditional percussion performance by Kim Duk-soo, master of Korean dance ensemble of Samulnori, the venue was heated up as a scene of Korea-Japan exchanges.

At a time when politicians cause crises in the bilateral relationship, isn`t it people who are managing the crises? The world is not about just being anti-Japan or anti-Korea. If people from the two countries can enjoy such a good time, why can`t the leaders of the two nations meet?

South Korean Foreign Minister Yoon Byung-se showed up at this year`s event. He sat by Bessho Koro, the Japanese ambassador to Seoul, chatting with each other and held their first meeting. The politically and diplomatically widened gap between the two neighbors was filled by the private exchanges even to small degrees. I hope that their get-together on that day will be the starting point for celebrating the 50th anniversary of the normalization of the bilateral diplomatic ties.

In Japan, the Korea-Japan Festival will be at the Hibiya Park in Tokyo this weekend. The Japanese organizers are making efforts to do better than their South Korean counterparts. What kind of stages will await us in Tokyo? As times go, civilians in Tokyo are busy preparing for the event.

(Written by Yoshibumi Wakamiya, senior fellow of Japan Center for International Exchange and former chief editor of Asahi Shimbun)