Film documents Japan’s tragedy |

Film documents Japan’s tragedy

Megumi Yokota, the focus of the documentary, "Abduction: the Megumi Yokota Story" poses for a photo taken before her 1977 abduction from Japan. Photo: courtesy

Why did the makers of the Slamdance film, "Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story," have to elbow between the Japanese media’s glaring lights crowding the screen before the premiere of their documentary?

Perhaps because the subject matter for their film, the North Korean government’s admission that between 1977 and 1983 their spies abducted 13 Japanese civilians from a coastal town, rocked their country as much as the terrorist attacks in New York, on Sept. 11, 2001 rocked America.

In two historic meetings, including the first time any Japanese prime minister has ever set foot on North Korean soil, for a meeting with Prime Minister Kim Jong Il.

The filmmakers, co-directors Patty Kim and Chris Sheridan, admit it’s a story that has been largely untold outside of Japan, but "it’s a very personal story for the Japanese people," explains Kim.

Investigative journalists were the first to suggest that some missing persons might have been abducted. Then, as witnesses including a defected North Korean soldier began to step forward to share their stories, more than two decades later, and as they began to need the aid of Japanese resources, North Korea confessed. They had kidnapped and never returned 12 adults and one 13-year-old girl, and yes, they would be sending as many as they could back to Japan, but unfortunately, five had died since they were abducted.

The vague and suspect manner in which the North Korean government handled the matter continues to concern families. Death certificates appear to have been changed, DNA tests of the urn of remains shipped to Japan reportedly concluded the cremated bodies do not belong to the bodies of those abducted.

The parents of Megumi Yokota suspected as much, it seems. They never gave up on their daughter and continue to believe that she is alive. For years, they have been searching very publicly for their daughter, and frequently hold press conferences.

The film is told through the Yokotas, following them intimately, during their daily routines, down to the way they brush their teeth or comb their hair in the mirror.

Getting the Yokotas, who typically display strong, composed faces in public, to reveal the tender, less composed moments on film, required some convincing on the side of the filmmakers, according to Kim.

"They were willing to participate in the film, but it was a challenge to explain that it was asking them much more this was us asking them if we could come into their daily lives and film them in moods they don’t necessarily want others to see," she explained. "It was important to show moments of stress, because our goal was to move Americans to feel for them." The filmmakers interview everyone willing to talk brothers, teachers and friends, now grown about what they remember about Megumi before she was abducted in fall, 1977. A choir teacher shares a recording of Megumi singing shortly before she went missing and photos of her with friends and family.

The only reason given for the abduction comes from the former North Korean spy who says that those abducted were used by the government as training tools to teach spies how to speak, look and act like Japanese people.

Megumi’s mother noticed she was missing after she didn’t come home from her badminton practice. Immediately, Megumi’s parents launched a campaign to get their daughter back, believing, from the start, that she was alive. Over the years, and even now, with gray hair and slow strides, the Yokotas lives have been consumed with hurrying to meetings, making posters, handing out fliers and communicating with their government about their missing daughter.

The North Korean administration has stood by its claim that Megumi committed suicide in a mental institution, despite the fact that they got the date wrong (they changed the date of her death from 1993 to 1994 after an investigation by the Yokotas) and a Japanese tests that determined the ashes sent did not belong to Megumi.

The other four who the North Korean government reports are no longer living, died from unnatural or unlikely causes such as a car accident or a heart attack at the age of 27, prompting all the families to join the Yokotas in the continued investigation into the whereabouts of their missing loved ones.

Even now, according to the film, the eight who have returned after decades of living in North Korea will not speak about what happened to them.

"Kim Jong Il claimed he had nothing to do with it, and of course later it was found that he was head of the spy organization at the time of the abductions," Sheridan told the audience amidst flashing bulbs at the premiere. "This is still going on. Only recently have the children from some of the families been returned to their parents in Japan The Japanese still want more answers."

For more information on "Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story visit

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