Esther Kim

Visual Artist

Film Review: The Apology (directed by Tiffany Hsiung, 2016)
Esther Kim
April 2020


The film is centralized around “the comfort women” also known as “the grandmothers”, individuals (children at the time) who were once enslaved by the Japanese Military during World War II to serve as sex slaves; taken at the age of 13 to 16, these girls were forced, beaten and raped repeatedly. They demand an apology from the Japanese Government for their past wartime atrocities, the omission of truths from historical records, and for the scars left unattended. It was not only the girls from Korea that were taken to be used as comfort women, girls from China and the Philippines and other Asian Countries were victims as well. The film memorializes the past struggles of shame and ends of the journeys of Grandma Cao (China), Grandma Adela (Philippines) and Grandma Gil (South Korea), like the flight of three butterflies. Grandma Gil says in one of her statements that she wants to be like a butterfly, breaking free of the barbed wire that divides the two Koreas and to return to North Korea, her home where she had been taken from when she was thirteen. Near the end of the film, Yoon Mee-Hyang states “That is the life of a butterfly. The portion of its life that a butterfly can fly is very short” (1:37:43).

Swallowing pain and keeping silent, which is what many of the comfort women resulted to, reminds me of my sculpture Severed Tongue; a hollow metal sculpture of a two foot tongue, hung like a trophy of the unheard. Hollow words and thoughts are cut at the root, silencing them while the pain of it continues to endure throughout time. The women felt the need to silence themselves due to feeling shame of being raped; the shamefulness of being a victim. Shame is a common feeling held in many Asian cultures which had adopted Confucius philosophies as it is seen as not pure to have sex before marriage, a tainted vessel. Many comfort women were afraid to speak of what happened to them in fear of being ashamed and exiled from families or communities. It feels liberating to see the silence being broken and the truths to be spoken of and heard.

No apology can make a wound disappear. “The scars will remain, but my heart can heal” (26:44) (Grandma Gil speaks in a lecture to Japanese students). The apology will not change what has taken place in history but it can give light and hope for growth and to a better future. Once all the victims of the comfort women dies, the apology will feel empty, with no direction and a little meaningless. Grandma Cao is cutting a log with a chisel and hammer and her daughter returns and asks her mom why she keeps doing this. At the age of 92, Grandma Cao’s response embodies her determination and the strong will she carried and fostered throughout her life, “I saw the log could be split, I just needed to break it apart” (16:56).

The film gives a short glimpse into the final moments of the lives of three strong women who were apart of the 200,000 comfort women that were forced into sexual slavery during the World War II. It solidifies and gives permanence for the fight for reconciliation and justice of the few comfort women left living. I personally found the film very moving and a huge tearjerker as it reminded me of my own Grandma, my cultural and traditional history and I really enjoyed the use of metaphors and analogies to convey and describe feelings.