NEW YORK – A musical penned by a drama student from Seoul living in New York and focusing on “comfort women” opened off Broadway on Friday, with the playwright aiming to educate audiences about females who were forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels.
Dimo Hyun Jun Kim, the 24-year-old author and director of “Comfort Women: A New Musical,” said he learned how few of his New York classmates knew about the subject when he first started an assignment for a playwriting class three years ago.
Kim said that he had asked them what they thought the term meant, and that most answered that it was women who are “comfortable.”
“They really, really didn’t know about them,” the Seoul native explained to Kyodo News in a recent interview. “I was a bit shocked because I grew up in (South) Korea. . . . I thought everyone knows about this story.”
Initially, Kim toyed with writing a play, but opted for a musical because he thought the material would have a greater impact through music.
“My goal is that they go home humming a song . . . then they research,” the City College of New York senior said. “I really don’t want to make a show that Japan is bad and Korea is a victim. My goal is not to show everything, it is to get their interest.”
The story centers on Goeun, a young woman who along with several other teens thinks she is bound for work in a Japanese factory, but winds up in Indonesia at a so-called comfort station.
There she meets a Korean soldier conscripted by the Imperial Japanese Army who decides to help the teens escape. At that time of the story, Korea had been annexed as a colony by Japan.
The characters are not based on actual people, but are drawn from his research of survivors’ testimonies found in books and online.
He also recently met Kim Bok-dong — a “fiery” 90-year-old former comfort woman — while she was in Washington. She was taken to Indonesia as a teenager and later rescued in her 20s in Singapore.
For audience members such as Alexandra Kranes, who attended a preview, the musical proved to be eye-opening on many fronts.
“It has not been told before and their story should be told more,” the 20-year-old theater student said, noting that, like her, many Americans were hearing about what happened in Asia for the first time on stage. “It opens a lot of doors for a lot of things.”
The musical runs through Aug. 9 at the Theatre at St. Clement’s in Manhattan.