UPCOMING AND NEWSWEEK ARTICLE
Sorry to be so negligent by not keeping you up-to-date on the goings on but things are going very smoothly. As some of you know, the film will open in Shibuya, one of Tokyo's hippest districts at the GAGA Theatre there on November 25th. Tell all your friends and family to go. The film's release in the US will be the same week and we will soon have all the details so stay tuned. We hope you'll get the word out. We'll also be at the Austin Film Festival, the Denver Film Festival and then for a screening in Boston in October so keep checking the "screenings" section of our website for that info. I've included below an article that ran recently in Newsweek Japan. It gives a good idea of how our LA premiere went.
FROM NEWSWEEK JAPAN:
“Abduction: A Japanese story makes waves in America”
Written by Ryan Mottesheard
When a thirteen-year old girl goes missing, a million nightmare scenarios instantly race through your head. One however, that does not immediately come to mind is that she has been abducted by the North Korean spies. That is the subject of the film, “Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story,” a new documentary from US-based, Canadian filmmakers Chris Sheridan and Patty Kim.
“Abduction” has been gathering steam since its debut at the Slamdance Film Festival in January, where it sold out both its screenings, earned rave reviews and won the Documentary Audience Award. This would prove to be a sign of things to come as “Abduction” made the US film festival rounds, winning kudos in Omaha, Dallas, San Francisco and Toronto’s Hot Docs. Japanese media has followed the film closely of course, but US press has also taken note, with the film garnering coverage on CNN, NPR, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal.
The interest in “Abduction” hit a fever pitch during last week’s prestigious DocuWeek, held in Los Angeles. Before the festival even began, “Abduction” was greeted with a fantastic review in the Los Angeles Times, which likened it to the films of Ozu and called it “the most haunting and sadly relevant” of the docs on offer. It went on to praise the filmmakers’ “poetic sense of how the missing can dominate our lives in a way they might not have had they never vanished.”
All the weekend shows in LA sold out with about 1500 people seeing the film over seven days. (Roughly half of the audience were Asian-Americans say the directors.) On Sunday, Akie Abe attended the screening, prompting Japanese media to descend upon the Arclight theatres, located on historic Sunset Boulevard. Ms. Abe—who saw the film with her husband, Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, at a special screening in Tokyo in June—has become “a firm supporter of the film,” says co-director Kim. Also on hand was GAGA’s Tom Yoda, who announced plans to release the film theatrically in Japan on November 25.
Aside from building awareness for the film, DocuWeek fills another important role. It qualifies “Abduction” for Oscar eligibility, and an Academy Award nomination would certainly ensure the abduction issue reaches a wider stage. Roco Films’ Annie Roney, who is handling foreign sales on “Abduction,” credits DocuWeek with helping “these small independent documentaries that don’t necessarily have the marketing money behind them to jump through the hoops that the Oscars has set out for eligibility.”
All this attention has caught Sheridan, 37, and Kim, 36, a little off-guard. The husband-wife filmmaking team has been making documentaries for years for American and Canadian television and “Abduction” is not their first foray into international territory. But while the story of Megumi Yokota, and other Japanese citizens who were abducted by Kim Jong-Il’s regime may be old news to the Japanese public, Sheridan and Kim, like most Americans had never heard of the case. That is, till they came across a 2002 Washington Post article about Prime Minister Koizumi’s first visit to North Korea.
“When we read that one of the victims was a 13-year-old girl, we were even more shocked,” recounts co-director Sheridan. By the time they started making the film in 2004, Megumi’s saga involved international politics, espionage and diplomatic negotiations but what attracted the filmmakers was a more simple drama: Megumi’s parents’ 29-year quest to find their daughter. “We never intended to make a political film,” Sheridan adds. “Our first instinct was to make a film about this family.”
They started shooting the film in July 2004 and over the next year they would make three trips to Japan, ultimately spending two-and-a-half months there. The majority of “Abduction” is comprised of the hundred hours of footage they shot, but a big assist came from FujiTV, which allowed Sheridan and Kim use of its archival footage. “We met with a FujiTV anchor in 2005 and I guess we said the right things,” recalls Sheridan. The filmmakers also used footage shot before 2004 by Japanese independent filmmaker Kazuo Inagawa. The filmmakers used their credit cards to pay for the film, though Sheridan says they were “literally down to our last dollar” when they sent a rough cut of the first half-hour to Nick Fraser of the BBC. Fraser, a major player in the world of non-fiction film, immediately got on board and provided the funds needed to finish the film.
Given Sheridan and Kim’s bent towards people, not politics, it should come as no surprise that “Abduction” is not a political call to action, but rather the gentle, humanistic story of a family’s loss. The first third of the film plays almost like a ghost story as it cuts between Megumi’s parents’ recollections and archival footage. Most striking is the juxtaposition of Megumi’s mother, Sakie, being interviewed in 2005 and her 1977 appearance on Japanese television where she makes a desperate plea for her daughter’s return. It is in that moment, that you truly realize how long the Yakotas have lived with the uncertainty, pain and above all, the sadness of what happened.
Even as the film shifts gears and becomes more mysterious and suspenseful, Sheridan and Kim are steadfast in their commitment to making sure their story is not simply told, but felt. When the North Koreans finally admit to abducting thirteen Japanese citizens and agree to release five of them, we hold our breath along with Megumi’s parents as they wait to find out Megumi’s fate. Like Megumi’s parents and the film’s Teruaki Masumoto—whose sister, Rumiko was abducted and who, in one of the film’s more engaging sections, runs for political office—“Abduction” becomes a piece of political activism almost despite itself.
But perhaps most importantly, the film is connecting with audiences, Japanese and non-Japanese alike. Fran, in Sedona, Arizona posted the following on the film’s website: “As a mother and grandmother, I experienced the overwhelming angst felt by Megumi's mother—there can be no greater loss than having a child simply disappear.”
Sheridan estimates that around eight thousand people have seen “Abduction.” That number should grow exponentially as the filmmakers prepare a US theatrical release and GAGA readies the Japanese bow. Other countries, such as Israel and South Korea, have also shown keen interest, though the film has not yet been officially made available due to Oscar restrictions. This worldwide attention has surprised the filmmakers. “We had no strategy in place because we didn’t expect the response to be so huge,” says Sheridan, claiming the film was “definitely made for a Western audience.” That however, is no small feat, says Izumi Asano, who founded the US-based ReACH (Rescuing Abductees Center for Hope) after hearing of the documentary: “I want American people to become aware of the issue, especially because I think Japan alone cannot solve the problem.”