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Tsutomu Nishioka

【#457(Special)】Terrible Film “Battleship Island” (Part 1 of 2)

Tsutomu Nishioka / 2017.08.04 (Fri)

August 2, 2017

     In Seoul, I watched a newly-released South Korean film titled “The Battleship Island.” I would like to make two reports about the film. This report, Part 1, indicates that the film distorts many historical facts.

Distorting and fabricating facts
     Coming first is the treatment of requisitioned Korean workers on the Japanese island of Hashima, which is nicknamed Gunkanjima (Battleship Island). In the film, Korean workers are transported on ship bottoms and freight trains like slaves, deprived of their properties, given meager meals and bad dormitories and forced to do hard work while being beaten. A tunnel is closed upon an accident to protect other tunnels, with Korean coal miners left to die in the closed tunnel.
     The description runs counter to statements by former residents of Hashima in Nagasaki Prefecture. They said Japanese and Koreans were “living in harmony in the same community.” The description also differs far from remarks by requisitioned Korean workers who worked during the period in which the film was set. Tyong Chung Hae, who had worked as a requisitioned Korean worker at a munition factory in Hiroshima, said he had been accommodated in a newly-built dormitory and given meals that had been satisfactory in volume and quality. He could booze up every night while eating oysters (see my book “Truths of Japan-South Korea Historical Problems”).
     The second is the treatment of Korean comfort women. In the film, Korean women fell for a made-up story of working at factories and taken eventually to red-light districts while being beaten by military men. One of them says she was forced to work at a comfort station in China before coming to Hashima. At the Chinese comfort station, she was fully tattooed in a punishment for attempting to commit suicide in dismay after seeing her fellow comfort woman who rejected an order and was rolled on a nail board to bloody death.
     This description is based on a false statement by the late Seiji Yoshida that military men hunted comfort women like slaves, as well as a statement by a former comfort woman in North Korea that was quoted without verification in a report by Radhika Coomaraswamy, a United Nation special rapporteur on violence against women. At sites to which Korean workers were mobilized, red-light districts with Korean women were sometimes established for labor management reasons. If Korean women were at a red-light district on Hashima, they might have been stationed for Korean coal miners who could communicate with these women in the same language. Korean miners were given relatively high wages and could afford to go to red-light districts.
     Third, the film features a plan to massacre Korean miners. Japanese company executives attempt to bury all Koreans in tunnels to death, fearing that they could be held responsible for abusing miners.
     This episode represents a sheer fabrication. Such plan amounts to a grave crime and has never been heard. In wartime Japan under a national mobilization order, all companies cooperated in the war. After the war, however, “Mitsubishi ships transported Koreans from Hashima to the Korean Peninsula,” according to a former Hashima resident.

Fact-based rebuttal is needed
     The film begins with the following caption:
     “This film was produced by reference to documents of the Commission on Verification and Support for the Victims of Forced Mobilization under Japanese Colonialism in Korea, real relevant newspaper articles, interviews, etc.”
     The commission is a government organ that was created by a special law during Roh Moo Hyun’s presidency. The commission took 11 years from 2004 to conduct a large-scale survey, producing a large number of reports. In Busan, the National Memorial Museum of Forced Mobilization under Japanese Occupation has been created. Japan’s government and private sectors must cooperate to get the whole picture of requisitioned workers and make fact-based rebuttal against false assertions in a systematic manner. Testimonies by Japanese people involved should urgently be collected.

Tsutomu Nishioka is a member of the Planning Committee at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and Visiting Professor at Reitaku University.