‘Hard Times’: Why popular TV series Pachinko was met with silence in Japan | Japan

IWhile the TV adaptation of Min Jin Lee’s best-selling novel Pachinko charmed critics and drew large audiences in the UK and US, it barely earned a mention in any of the countries that released it. inspired.

The eight-part drama, now streaming on Apple TV+, evokes the universal experience of migrants, but it’s also an uncomfortable reminder of the bitter historical legacy of Japan’s colonial rule on the Korean peninsula.

The story of a family moving from Busan, South Korea to the Koreatown district of Osaka in the early 20th century, Pachinko’s narrative draws on the real-life experiences of zainichithe name of people of Korean descent who form one of Japan’s largest ethnic minorities.

Kang Mijija’s family moved to Japan after World War II and encountered a country that offered opportunity, but at a cost. As immigrants from the Korean Peninsula – liberated from 35 years of Japanese colonial rule at the end of World War II – they were easy targets for locals who despised their new neighbors.

“People threw water and even stones at my aunts,” Kang, a second-generation zainichi, told The Guardian at a cafe in Tsuruhashi, a neighborhood in Osaka with a large ethnic Korean community. “It was a really tough time. Now we live in a gray area…those extremes are gone, but there is still systemic discrimination and hate speech.

Kang’s parents were first generation zainichi – from Japan A Korean diaspora of 430,000 peoplemany of whom are descendants of people forcibly brought to Japan as laborers before and during World War II.

Just as Pachinko – named after the pinball-like gambling machine that has brought many ethnic Koreans to life – emerged last month, Japanese audiences were confronted with another chapter in their country’s troubled relationship with its next to.

Anna Sawai and Jimmi Simpson in Pachinko. Photo: Juhan Noh/Apple TV+

Shusenjoa documentary by director Miki Dezaki, examines the controversy over “comfort women” – approximately tens of thousands of women and girls, mostly from the Korean peninsula, who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels before and during the second World War .

Dezaki, who recently took his documentary to Japan and the United States, had to fight a legal challenge by right-wing commentators who claimed they had not given their consent to appear in the film. “The right-wing nationalist view of the comfort women issue is now the dominant narrative in Japan,” he says.

Under the leadership of its longest-serving prime minister, Shinzo Abe, Japan has set out to dismantle its ‘masochism’ over the war, casting doubt on accepted narratives about the Japanese military’s role in recruiting comfort women. and the use of zainichi as forced labor.

“It accelerated the general intolerant atmosphere in Japanese society,” says Satoko Oka Norimatsu, coordinator of the International Network of Museums for Peace. “Japanese people don’t think racism exists in Japan, and they don’t like to admit that they are active perpetrators of racism against Japan. zainichi.”

Dezaki noted how little coverage his legal victory attracted, even in liberal Japanese media. “Unless Japanese news media, especially TV news media, cover my film or Pachinko, there will be no balance,” he said.

The balance tips in favor of conservative and revisionist interpretations of history. Japan pushed bids for Unesco World Heritage status for sites that used Korean workers. Under government pressure, textbooks to be introduced next year omit the word “forced” to describe wartime workers and make no mention of the military’s role in recruiting comfort women.

South Korean protesters hold banners next to a statue of a teenage girl symbolizing 'comfort women' near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul in March 2021
South Korean protesters hold banners next to a statue of a teenage girl symbolizing “comfort women” near the Japanese Embassy in Seoul in March 2021. Photograph: Jung Yeon-Je/AFP/Getty Images

While the legal crackdown on hate speech has weakened far-right groups such as Zaitokukai, which calls for the removal of so-called “privileges” for ethnic Koreans, there are no penalties for violators, and much of the abuse has migrated online.

Few people think the movies — along with a recent free speech exhibit in Tokyo that included a statue symbolizing comfort women — will be enough to curb right-wing narratives about the zainichi and Japan’s wartime conduct.

“I don’t think the far right is going to shut up any time soon,” says Bang Chungja, a zainichi Korean who belongs to an Osaka-based network demanding compensation and an official apology for victims of wartime sex slavery. “Japan should recognize the truth of history… The Japanese also suffered terribly from the war, but they were not the only victims.”

The Japanese consulate in Lyon reportedly tried to prevent Shusenjo from being shown at the city’s Institute of Political Studies, while Japanese authorities supported campaigns for the removal of comfort woman statues in the United States and in Germany.

“It’s good that people who have seen the film are interested in the issue of comfort women, but their supporters are losing the battle in Japan,” says Tomomi Yamaguchi, associate professor of anthropology at Montana. State University.

“The Japanese government and mainstream media have taken the position that Japan is not responsible for sexual slavery [during the war]. While young people may be interested in Korean pop culture, mainstream Japanese society is stuck in a revisionist version of history.

Kang, however, was cautiously optimistic that Pachinko and Shusenjo could bring awareness of the Korean experience to Japan. “I think Min Jin Lee intended to tell our story to the world, and it’s good for people to find out about the zainichi.”

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