A Feature Documentary by Ban Zhongyi
Produced by Siglo, Ltd., Tokyo
80 minutes, Chinese and Japanese, with English subtitles, 2007
This film tells the story of the misery of sexual abuse suffered by Gai Shanxi and her sisters during World War II.
By focusing our sight on their history, etched in blood and tears, and their present circumstances, we sincerely hope to extend to them a measure of dignity and love.
Gai Shanxi—“the most beautiful woman of Shanxi.” This was the nickname of Hou Dong-e, a Chinese woman who lived in Shanxi Province. She earned this nickname not solely for her physical beauty, but also for the tender-heartedness that led her to sacrifice herself to protect the young “sisters” who shared her confinement, and for the wretchedness of her life in the years that followed. Over time the name Gai Shanxi became a symbol of dignity among the people of Shanxi Province. This documentary is the product of director Ban Zhongyi’s efforts, over the course of nine years, to search for Gai Shanxi and the women who shared her fate in the heartland of China. It is the story of women whose lives were stolen from them at an early age, as well as a story of the present that speaks to all of our futures.
In 1992, I attended a meeting in Tokyo where Chinese women testified regarding the sexual violence they were subjected to by members of the former Japanese Imperial Army during the Sino-Japanese War. I was shocked by their testimony and the physical scars left by their abuse. I had first become interested in the issue of the war through my encounters with Japanese women who were abandoned in China after the war ended. Then, on the 50th anniversary of the end of the war in 1995, a controversy erupted in Japan over a resolution in the Diet apologizing for the war, and I became quite concerned about Japanese attitudes toward the war. I decided to explore the historical reality of the Sino-Japanese War for myself and made my first trip to visit the poor farming villages in Shanxi Province on the Loess Plateau in north-central China. But when I arrived there, I discovered that the woman I wanted to meet, Gai Shanxi, had already died.
For the next ten years, I visited Shanxi Province every year and got to know other women who, like Gai Shanxi, had been victims of sexual violence. They gradually began to open up and tell me about their experiences, sometimes shaking with the terror of their memories. For more than half a century, these women suffered discrimination and poverty, illness and fear, and were unable to tell their stories. Now, confronting their past for the first time, they spoke with anger, sadness, and regret. Later, I interviewed former soldiers of the Imperial Army, some of whom spoke calmly of the crimes they had committed, while others shed tears of remorse.
It remains difficult, 60 years after the war, to talk about wartime experiences and to share them across the borders of nations. But for that very reason, I have done what I can over the last 20 years, working in cooperation with people in Japan and China who use the power of their imaginations to confront history together, in order to preserve peace and ensure that we never repeat the cruelties of war.
Ban Zhongyi was born in 1958 in Fushun, Liaoning Province in northern China. He came to Japan in 1987 as a foreign student, attending college and graduate school at Sophia University.
In 1992, he published So Obasan no Umi (Grandma So’s Sea), a nonfiction book dealing with the problem of Japanese women abandoned in China after World War II. The book was awarded the Asahi Journal Prize. In 1995 he established the Association to Support Former Chinese “Comfort Women.” He published Chikakute Toi Sokoku (A Homeland Near and Far) in 1996. In 1998 he established the Association to Support the Education of Children in Yunnan.
In 1999, Ban completed his first documentary, “Chon Obasan no Kuni” (“Where is Grandma Zheng’s Homeland?”). His companion book to his new film, Gaisanshi to Sono Shimaitachi (Gai Shanxi and Her Sisters) was published in September 2006.
Produced, written and directed by Ban Zhongyi
Produced by Yamagami Tetsujiro
Camera by Ban Zhongyi
Edited by Kam Man Fai and John Junkerman
Sound edited by Ogawa Takeshi
Assistant camera: He Yi, Li Guimin, Zhang Shuangbing
Script support: Takahashi Keiko, Sing Jianhua
Production assistance: Yamamoto Kihei, Kumeta Tsuyoshi, Digital Movie Factory
Music performed by Yu County Private Band
Sound mix by Kyoei Studios
Archival materials: Lin Boyao, Fukuzawa Mayumi, Arai Toshio, Yamamoto Izumi
English translation: Bowie Lo, Tian Tse
Translation support: Leon Hill
Subtitles by John Junkerman
Subtitles produced by Akamatsu Ryuta, Passo Passo
Produced and distributed by Siglo, Ltd., Tokyo