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Documentary film ‘Shusenjo’ comes to NMSU

Several departments at New Mexico State University have come together to present the documentary film, “Shusenjo: The Main Battleground of Comfort Women Issue,” directed by Miki Dezaki. The idea behind the screening is to boost awareness on global issues among students and educators.

The documentary film “Shusenjo: The Main Battleground of Comfort Women Issue,” is coming to NMSU Oct. 4. Miki Dezaki, the film’s director, will be on hand to answer questions about the film. (Courtesy photo)

The name “comfort women” is a translation of the Japanese ianfu, a euphemism for “prostitute.” According to information published on the film’s official website, the comfort women issue is “perhaps Japan’s most contentious present-day diplomatic quandary.”

According to the film’s official synopsis, the documentary attempts to answer the following: “Were comfort women prostitutes or sex slaves? Were they coercively recruited? And, does Japan have a legal responsibility to apologize to the former comfort women?”

Director Miki Dezaki (Courtesy photo)

In recent years, efforts have been made in the U.S. and other countries to raise awareness about Japan’s history regarding comfort women. These efforts include the formation of organizations, film screenings, teaching curricula and community memorials. However, Japanese authorities have been known to interfere with these efforts and are known to exclude the issue from textbooks.

During World War II the Imperial Japanese Army forced an estimated 200,000 women and girls (mostly Korean) from occupied countries into sex slavery, however, Japan tends to downplay its history by not legally accepting responsibility and potentially undermining the preservation of its history.

Some comfort women were said to have “served” up to 60 soldiers a day leaving them with physical disabilities, such as not being able to walk or bear children.

According to Hwiman Chung, the head of NMSU’s Department of Journalism and Media Studies, the U.S. government also didn’t do a good job of holding Japan responsible by not cleaning up and prosecuting war criminals.

“[Failure to prosecute] is the reason war criminals regained power,” Chung said.

Chung suggests this lack of accountability has created power imbalances in Japan and has led to a Japanese society dominated by extreme right-wing ideology.

Chung sees this as a basic human rights issue, specifically the treatment of women in wartime. Miki Dezaki, the director of the documentary film, would agree. “This is not just a diplomatic issue between two countries, but an international human/woman’s rights issue that has implications on how we view violence against women during war,” Dezaki said.

“Shusenjo” is Miki Dezaki’s directorial debut. He recently completed a graduate program in global studies at Sophia University in Tokyo. Dezaki also worked for the Japan Exchange Teaching Program for five years and then became a Buddhist monk in Thailand for one year.

Dezaki is known on Youtube as “Medama Sensei,” where he makes comedic videos on social issues, such as “Racism in Japan.” The video led to threats by Japanese neo-nationalists who deny “the existence of racism and discrimination against Zainichi Koreans (Koreans with permanent residency in Japan) and Burakumin (historical outcasts still discriminated against today),” according to the film’s website.

Dezaki credits being a Japanese-American male with allowing him to access people on both sides of the issue and hopes this will allow him to promote a more productive conversation moving forward.

“Shusenjo: The Main Battleground of Comfort Women Issue” will be screened at NMSU’s Corbett Center Student Union auditorium on Friday, Oct. 4, at 4 p.m.

There will be a one-hour conversation with director Miki Dezaki following the film. Admission to the film is free and refreshments will be provided.

“Shusenjo” was an official selection at the Busan International Film Festival in South Korea in 2018, and is currently touring universities across the U.S. to raise awareness about the Japanese comfort women issue and global human and sex-trafficking issues.

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