Documentary on “comfort women” debuts in Japan
Published: Sep 19, 2023 01:11 AM
Promotional material for Twenty Two Photo: Courtesy of Maoyan

Promotional material for Twenty Two Photo: Courtesy of Maoyan

Monday marks the 92nd anniversary of the "September 18 Incident" which dragged China into a bitter 14-year war with Japan's fascist regime. Twenty Two, a Chinese documentary focused on the surviving "comfort women," makes its debut in Japan today.  

On September 18, 1931, Japanese troops blew up a section of railway under their control near Shenyang in Northeast China and accused Chinese troops of sabotage as a pretext for the attack. Later that night, they bombarded barracks near Shenyang. The events were followed by Japan's total occupation of China's northeast regions. As many as 35 million Chinese were killed or wounded by invading Japanese troops between 1931 and 1945.

Amid the atrocities committed by the Japanese invaders and the unforgettable trauma for Chinese people, the voices of the "comfort women" have often been overlooked. "Comfort women" is a euphemism for girls and women forced into sex slavery by the Japanese during World War II. The documentary offers a last look at the 22 "comfort women" survivors in China. 

The documentary crowd-funded by 32,099 people, started shooting in 2014 with the aim of giving voice to the powerless and marginalized victims. It was first released in China in 2017 and later was screened in different countries including the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, France and South Korea. 

When the documentary was released in China in 2017, eight of the 22 "comfort women" featured in the documentary were still living. Wang Zhifeng, a former "comfort woman" who was also in the documentary, passed away on August 29 at the age of 98, which now means only one of the 22 victims in the documentary, remain alive. During an interview with the Xinhua News Agency in 2017, Wang was asked if she would accept an apology from the descendants of those Japanese soldiers who hurt her.

"I would. But I must tell them what their grandfathers or fathers have done," she replied. 

According to the China Comfort Women Research Center, approximately 400,000 Asian women - mostly Korean and Chinese - were forcibly taken away from their homes by the Japanese army during World War II. They were taken to a "comfort station," a brothel that catered to Japanese soldiers, where they were raped, tortured and humiliated. 

"It is our hope that more people see them. It is our responsibility to let those who should know the past of these 'comfort women' to see them," director Guo Ke, posted on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo on Monday.

At 9 am on Monday, a former "comfort women" surnamed Jiang passed away at the age of 102. She signed up to join the military in 1939 to fight the Japanese invaders, and was assigned the duty of taking care of wounded Chinese soldiers. She was captured and forced into sexual slavery by Japanese troops. With her passing, the Chinese mainland has only 10 surviving "comfort women," reported the People's Daily.

"These witnesses to history are leaving us. If we don't remember history, history will be forgotten," wrote one netizen on Sina Weibo.    

"Learning about their painful, unbearable past is not about hate. It is about respect for the human dignity they deserve. It is about justice and the apology for which these victims have been waiting for their entire lives," commented another.