June 28, 2006
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MANN (voice-over): For decades, Megumi Yokota's parents hoped someone would pay attention to their daughter's disappearance. Now the case has gotten nationwide attention in Japan and is even the subject of a new documentary by two American filmmakers.
"I am extremely grateful that this move has been made," Sakie Yokota said. "It's of great importance that people come to the realization that such a thing has actually happened."
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(on camera): Welcome back.
Even after Kim Young-nam was reunited with his family, he said nothing publicly about Megumi Yokota, the mother of his child. He is expected to hold a news conference Thursday, but in the meantime there is no further word on her fate.
We got in touch with the filmmakers, Patty Kim and Christopher Sheridan, to talk about the movie, "Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story."
PATTY KIM, FILMMAKER: When we first heard about the story a few years ago, back in 2002, I was sitting at my desk. I was a correspondent for "National Geographic" and one day I happened to pick up the paper and read this really incredible story about the fact that the Japanese prime minister had gone to North Korea for the first time and North Korea had admitted at that meeting that its secret agents had abducted Japanese citizens back in the '70s and '80s. And I just thought, oh, my gosh, this is just such a remarkable story. We were totally hooked, right from the start.
MANN: And how do you make a movie about someone who has disappeared?
CHRISTOPHER SHERIDAN, FILMMAKER: Well, that's a good question. I mean, obviously, the main character in our film doesn't actually appear in the film, but you definitely get a sense of who she is and what kind of personality she has.
I think largely through the people, her family, the people who are living in Japan and can talk about who she is and what she was like when she was living with them. So I think that that really helps. That's what this story is about, is about the attempt to try to bring her home and just bring in this person very much alive.
MANN: How much detective work were you able to do? Or were you just hitting a stonewall in your own attempt to figure out what happened to her?
SHERIDAN: Well, I think the main goal we had was not to actually do an investigative or political or historical work. Our goal was to actually create something that was more of a narrative, a classic narrative, and do a story that people could easily understand.
A lot of what we tell in this film is very well known. It's public information. It's not stuff that we had to dig up. It wasn't difficult for us to divulge.
I think the most revealing parts of the film were actually the intimate, private things that we got from Megumi's family and from some of the other people who have had their relatives abducted.
So I think a lot of the film is more an expose of what this family has been through for the last 30 years as opposed to exposing sort of the investigative side of things.
MANN: It's inconceivable, I mean, it's hard to imagine what they have been through. How would you describe the process they went through from the day she disappeared, say, until today, when they have an official account that they don't entirely trust?
SHERIDAN: It's absolutely unbelievable, and the most common reaction we get in the United States, and not just in the United States, in Australia and Canada and other places where we've shown it, even here in Japan, is how come I didn't known this story? How can this happen and we don't know about it? That's what many people say to us.
And it's one of those stories, as Patty mentioned earlier, that if you took this to a Hollywood producer, they wouldn't believe you. They couldn't believe that this could possibly happen in real life, but it really did.
KIM: We've had mothers come up to us after screenings and say to us, you know, I can imagine no greater angst than having my child simply disappear one day out of the blue with no explanation. And to think that that's exactly what happened to these people, but it didn't last for one year or two years or three years. It lasted for two decades, this sense of open, unending anguish. They had no closure at all. They had no clue what had happened to their child.
And I think that people can relate to it on a very every day level. You know, sometimes you're shopping in the supermarket, you've got your kid with you, and your kid just happens to walk down, you know, the next aisle over and you use them for half a second, and you just get that momentary oh, my God, where did he go. And imagine that multiplied, you know, to the umpteenth.
And, you know, I just think that their grief and their loss is something so tremendous and so deep that most of us can't understand that part of it, but we can identify with them and their journey to sort of find out the truth and heal.
MANN: You put it very well, and you express it in very personal terms, but could you say the same things in bigger political terms? This is half of the Korean Peninsula that was essentially grabbed and taken hostage by this strange, brutal and secretive regime.
SHERIDAN: Well, there is no issue that this has become the biggest political issue in Japan, for sure. And certainly one of the biggest political issues in Asia. It's a major stumbling block to getting North Korea to come to the negotiating table for, you know, to talk about its nuclear weapons program or alleged nuclear weapons program.
It's a problem that many people don't know about but are affected by. And what I mean by that is even though in the United States and other countries we don't hear about this issue so much, it's the one thing that can really put North Korea in a bad mood very quickly.
And, yeah, we did do a very personal story. We did the story about what happened to a simple Japanese family in November of 1977, but this has become a major international crisis and it could lead to bigger and worse things if it is not resolved in a good amount of time.
MANN: Let me ask you more about that, because the families involved feel that their personal problem has become political in the sense that they're not getting enough support from their government, whether in Japan or South Korea. They feel, many of them, because it politicizes the situation so much and they just want their loved ones back.
As you were following this one particular case, did you get a sense that the government of Japan was really doing all it could for the family?
KIM: I think that there was, in the early years, when this family, Megumi Yokota's mother and father, first found out that there was a possibility that their daughter had been abducted by spies and abducted to North Korea, when they approached the Japanese government, I think early on the Japanese government was definitely giving them very cool kind of response, the cold shoulder, if you will. And for many years after that not much was done.
But now things have definitely changed and this ordinary couple, this banker and this housewife, have transformed public opinion in Japan. They've raised their story to such an awareness, you know, that it forced the government to take action, and now the government basically is working side by side with these families, it seems, to try to resolve the matter as quickly as possible.
So things have really taken a turn, and it's all because ordinary mothers and fathers step forward, stood out on the streets, handed out pamphlets and said my son or my daughter has been snatched away by secret agents of a foreign country, please help me out. And from that grassroots movement, awareness grew. So it's quite amazing.
SHERIDAN: And many people feel the current prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, has not done enough, even though he has done a lot to try to make peace with North Korea to a certain extent and to try to do more for these families. But the next person who they believe will step in as prime minister, his name is Mr. Shinzo Abe, has a lot of support from the families and many families believe that he is going to push this issue even further with the North Koreans.
MANN: Patty Kim, Christopher Sheridan, thank you so much for talking with us.
SHERIDAN: Thank you. Thanks for having us.
KIM: Thanks, Jonathan.