Friday, July 14, 2006


Hi folks,

The film's screening in Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand over the next three weeks. Here are the details and an article on the film published in a national newspaper...

Auckland, New Zealand
Academy Cinemas
July 16, noon
July 22, 2:30pm

Wellington, New Zealand
Te Papa Theatre
July 29, 11:45am
August 6, 11:30am.


Abduction doco to screen at fest
15 July 2006

A Japanese teenager was abducted by North Korean spies when walking home from school in 1977. Jennifer Colwill talks to the directors of the documentary Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story screening at the New Zealand Film Festival.

In the 1970s Japanese citizens, including 13-year-old Megumi Yokota, were abducted to North Korea to help train spies during the Cold War.

American husband and wife filmmakers Chris Sheridan and Patty Kim have created a chilling documentary piecing together Megumi's disappearance and her parents' subsequent 30-year search.

Sheridan first heard about the abductions when Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi made his first ever visit to North Korea in 2002, to find out what had happened to the abductees.

Kim is of Korean heritage, so is "interested in things that go on in that part of the world", but that is not why the couple is drawn to the story.

She said it was an incredible espionage tale, wrapped around a love story.

"It's the personal tragedy being played out against the very large, dramatic political landscape."

Megumi was big sister to twin brothers. Her mother was a housewife, her father a banker.

"These people were just like you and me and that especially comes through when you look at their family photos and see them on vacation and at the beach ... and go `that could have been my family'," Kim said.

Megumi's parents are still ordinary people, but they have a different profile now as they took their campaign to the streets of Japan in search of answers to Megumi's disappearance.

They have become household names in Japan.

"They didn't want to, but were forced to because of the incredible situation they had been thrust into," Kim said.

It was many years before they discovered the truth: Megumi had been snatched by North Korean spies, taken to their country by boat, scratching off her fingernails in an attempt to escape.

About 75 percent of the film is from Kim and Sheridan's exclusive footage, and 25 percent is from archives.

The couple made three visits to Japan and used a Japanese interpreter to interview subjects.

Neither Kim nor Sheridan speaks Japanese and there were some barriers to filming the Yokotas in their home.

"The thing about Japanese society is that it's very closed, it's very conservative and private life is not something they particularly enjoy showing to the rest of the world, or their colleagues or friends," Sheridan said.

"We had to slowly and very politely coax them into allowing us to show them as real people. In Japan, they are so well known that they have press conferences and events all the time, so they're always in public, so that's the easy stuff. The difficult stuff was allowing these foreigners to come and peek into their lives, behind the curtain."

The film also trails the fate and families of other abductees who were snatched from Japanese beaches and streets.

The directors chose not to have an English narrator because they wanted the characters to tell their own stories.

Sheridan believes the abductions are not widely known outside of Japan.

"We present it to audiences like this is the first time people are going to hear about this."

Whenever an audience hears the story, it is positive for the families, who want their plights known outside of Japan, he said.

Kim said their goal was to tell a compelling human story, but also to enlighten people.

"In a nutshell this issue has gotten so big in Japan that the Japanese decided `hey, we need to resolve this and we need to get some answers about the fates of these people who were abducted'," she said.

"So every time those big powerful nations, Russia, China, South Korea, United States, get together and talk to North Korea and try to convince North Korea to drop their nuclear weapons programme, Japan uses that opportunity to say ... `don't you owe us some answers about our abducted people?' That puts North Korea in a bad mood and stalls nuclear talks.

"That affects the discussions that everybody is having, then North Korea continues on its merry way."

The story is particularly timely, with North Korea featuring heavily in the news media after it fired long-range missiles last week.

The directors said the story would ultimately affect New Zealand because of its status as an international player.

The most important thing people could do, if they wanted to help, was to raise awareness, Kim said.

"I think that public knowledge of this story has to come first."

Megumi's parents demonstrated this with their lives, she said.

"Nothing happened until they took it out onto the streets ... until they were blue in the face ... and that grassroots demonstration finally got the attention of the rest of the nation, which then forced the government to act."

New Zealander Jane Campion, best known for directing The Piano which won three Academy Awards, is the film's executive producer.

Kim met Campion about 15 years ago and they kept in touch.

When the couple's documentary developed and they wanted some guidance, they called Campion.

"We showed her a teeny, teeny bit of footage and the little she saw, she fell in love with," Kim said.

They showed her more snippets and eventually she took on the role as executive producer, based in Sydney, while the couple edited the film in Washington.

"Jane is obviously a tremendous filmmaker in her own right but she made an excellent executive producer. She was able to see the story very, very clearly and she has a very light touch."

Kim said she felt very grateful because Campion was often approached by other filmmakers and it was rare for her to get involved with other people's projects.

Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story screens in Auckland, Academy Cinemas, July 16, noon; July 22, 2.30pm; and in Wellington, Te Papa, July 29, 11.45am; August 6, 11.30am.


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