‘War Does Not Just End’: The Survivors of World War II Sex Slavery Demanding to Be Heard

6/12/2017

Images of horror are often indelible. When we think about horror, we remember gory movie scenes or even still moments—an actress covered in blood, a mouth paralyzed mid-scream. Historical tragedies have their own visual references—footage of violence, photographs of victims—that have been pored over, forgotten, and subsequently rediscovered. Of course, images lose their potency with time, and become faded as witnesses die and disappear. Remembering the story behind the photograph becomes tantamount, since reducing history to a collection of snapshots risks a tragic loss of nuance, depth, and truth.

The Apology, a documentary by director Tiffany Hsiung, takes an unconventional approach to horror, privileging complex personal histories over arresting images and challenging our collective urge to reduce history to a litany of horrific crimes and unknowable victims. Through Hsiung’s work, we are all but ordered to grapple with something far messier and less contained than an image or a timeline. Instead, we are thrown into the after: lives that did not end when forced to endure unimaginable pain.

The Apology follows three “grandmothers”—Grandma Gil in South Korea, Grandma Cao in China, and Grandma Adela in the Philippines—former “comfort women” who were kidnapped by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II and forced into sex slavery. These are just three women out of the 200,000 girls and young women who were imprisoned in “comfort stations,” raped and abused. Over 70 years later, the grandmothers are decades into a grassroots campaign demanding a formal apology from the Japanese government.

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