AAIFF 2013: Our Homeland

Posted by Caroline Teng & filed under AAIFF, Film, Film Festival, Pop Culture.

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Director Yang YONG-HI | 2012 | Japan | 100 mins | Closing Night Presentation

SCREENING: Saturday Aug 3, 2013 | 7:00 PM

Our Homeland is a Japanese film by Director Yang Yong-hi, a second generation ethnic Korean who lives in Japan (known as zainichi). The film is based on Director Yong-hi’s personal experiences and centres around themes and issues such as freedom and familial relations. The film explores how these issues are challenged and strained by political beliefs and movements.

Our Homeland follows Sungho (played by Arata Iura) who returns to Tokyo for medical treatment after spending 25 years in North Korea. When he was 16 years old, Sungho’s father (played by Masane Tsukayama) sent him to North Korea in the belief that the country would provide the Japanese emigrants with better lives. Yet, this notion is quickly undermined by the presence of Sungho’s minder, Mr. Yang (played by Yang Ik-june) who consistently impinges on the family.

Sungho’s family and friends warmly welcome him back home in Tokyo, inviting him over for dinner and giving him money to buy souvenirs. However, Sungho seems reluctant or unable to open up to them about his time in North Korea and this proves to be a stressor in their relationships with one another. Sungho’s sister, Rie, is a direct juxtaposition to Sungho — ambitious, expressive and outgoing. She soon begins to resent North Korea’s politics.

Throughout the film, the cinematography is kept simple with sombre, dark colours that are reflective of the predominant tension between the characters. Moreover, the mix of Korean and Japanese that is used in the dialogues between Mr. Yang, Sungho and the rest of the characters further emphasizes the distance in their relationships. Eventually, Sungho has to return to North Korea and this leads to one of the most poignant scenes in the film, where Rie refuses to let go of Sungho’s arm, even though she is opposed to his political allegiances. In this particular moment, we see that Our Homeland is about a family that struggles to overcome differences in ideological beliefs. In the end, love and gracious actions are portrayed to be the remedy for opposing political ideologies that seem nearly impossible to reconcile.

Selected as the Japanese entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the 85th Academy Awards, Our Homeland is not an easy film to contain in words because of the sheer amount of emotional quality it possesses. In spite of its heavy political context, Our Homeland remains as a film that explores various facets of life that are common human experiences – empathy, compassion, resilience and hope.

For screening information at the 2013 Asian American International Film FestivalOur Homeland

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