Film depicting horrors faced by ‘comfort women’ for Japan army tops Korea box office


A film based on the horrors experienced by “comfort women” in Japanese military brothels during World War II, whose doubtful commercial appeal meant it took 14 years and the contributions of 75,000 individual donors to complete, is top of the box office in South Korea.

Cho Jung-rae, who directed “Spirits’ Homecoming,” was inspired in 2002 to make the film when he saw the drawing “Burning Women,” made during a therapy session at a shelter for elderly former comfort women by Kang Il-chul, who said she was taken away by Japanese soldiers when she was 16.

At the time, Cho was a volunteer at the shelter, the House of Sharing.

“The grandmothers told me that if I was going to make a movie, I should make it well so that their stories could be told. That was the biggest motivation for me,” Cho said in an interview.

The term “comfort women” is a euphemism for the girls and women who were forced to work in the wartime military brothels. South Korean activists estimate that there may have been as many as 200,000 Korean victims. Of 238 South Korean comfort women who shared their stories, only 44 are still alive.

In the first week of its Feb. 24 release, “Spirits’ Homecoming” topped sales at the CJ CGV and Mega-box chains, and drew a total of 1,735,174 domestic viewers, the Korean Film Council said.

The release follows the landmark December accord between South Korea and Japan to “finally and irreversibly resolve” the matter with a Japanese apology to the women and a new fund of about ¥1 billion ($8.75 million) to help the victims.

The issue had long plagued relations between the two countries. Many South Koreans, including some of the victims, oppose the accord, saying the government had no right to accept an apology on their behalf.

The film has received a mostly positive response in South Korea, with an average 9.52 out of 10 viewer rating on the Naver portal. There have also been preview screenings in Japan and the United States.

“I was worried that the Japanese who came with (Korean) friends would leave in the middle of the movie, but surprisingly, they said they hoped many people watch the movie, and that they would let others know of the movie when it screens,” Cho said.

While Cho came up with the idea for the movie 14 years ago, a lack of investors meant filming could not begin until April 2015. More than half of production costs were funded by 75,270 individuals making contributions totalling nearly 1.2 billion won ($978,880), according to the movie’s website.

Closing credits list the names of donors, along with drawings by comfort women done during therapy sessions.

“I hope that this movie spreads like wild grass, so that everyone around the world can watch this film, and that it can become a beacon of peace so that there is no more war and no more suffering for women and children,” Cho said.

  • Merchant Mmo

    from outsiders perspective it feels more like a beacon of hate than a beacon of peace….

  • Roy Warner

    From an insider’s perspective, I would suggest seeing the film before developing a feel for it.

  • Sakurako


  • Hyung-Sung Kim

    This is a propaganda film and isn’t based on facts at all.

    The mainstream South Korean scholars confirm that Korean women were not coerced by the Japanese military. Let me mention some of them.

    Professor Ahn Byong-jik of Seoul National University says, “Comfort women were recruited by business operators in Korea, and there was no need for the military to abduct them.”

    Professor Chunghee Sarah Soh of San Francisco State University says, “Korean society must repudiate victimization, admit its complicity and accept that the system was not criminal. The case of a small number of Dutch and Filipino women who were coerced by lower ranked Japanese soldiers in the battlefields was an anomaly, and most women (Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese) were recruited and employed by comfort station owners.”

    Professor Park Yuha of Sejong University says, “Any coercion, violence or confinement was exercised by the Korean comfort station owners. So if one wants to use the term sex slaves to describe former Korean comfort women, they were the sex slaves of Korean comfort station owners. They were not the sex slaves of the Japanese military.”

    Professor Jun Bong-gwan of Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology says, “We all knew that Korean comfort women were not coercively taken away by the Japanese military. The Japanese military allowed Korean comfort station owners to recruit women in the Korean Peninsula and operate comfort stations in the battlefields. The Japanese military was busy fighting all over Asia, and it certainly didn’t have time to be in Korea recruiting women.”

    • hazel

      You can list all the 2nd hand sources you want, but that’s not going to change the 1st hand accounts of all the victims that spoke up. Why don’t you research testimonies of victims instead of listing sources of 3 random ‘professors’ that weren’t even present during the Japanese occupation.