the 1960’s and 1970’s, many Korean-Japanese immigrated back to their
homeland. Unfortunately, they chose the
wrong one. With family at risk in the
DPRK, active members of Japanese-North Korean friendship associations had no
choice but to tow the party line. Yet,
the implications of the basic foodstuff care packages they sent to loved ones
spoke volumes. Granted a special three
month visit for medical reasons, one such “repatriated” North Korean reconnects
with his guilt-ridden family in Yang Yonghi’s devastating Our Homeland (trailer
has been selected by Japan as their official foreign language Academy Award
Sung-ho most likely has a brain tumor.
Given the woeful inadequacies of the North Korean medical system, he is
allowed to briefly return to Japan—after a five year waiting period. He is fortunate his father is the president
of the North Korean society, but he will still be monitored the entire time by
his minder, Mr. Yang. Regardless, his
family is grateful to see him again, especially his poor mother. Likewise, Rie is delighted to see her beloved
brother again, but she cannot ignore certain ironies, like her brother developing
malnutrition in the “Workers’ Paradise.”
Yes, she is our kind of free-thinker and the unambiguous conscience of Our Homeland.
on writer-director Yang Yonghi’s own family experiences recorded in Dear Pyongyang and a subsequent documentary,
Homeland is even more direct in
addressing conditions in North Korea.
Perhaps liberated by the fictional context, the film explicitly blames
the DPRK for the misery of its citizens.
There is no inclination towards moral equivalency. In fact, there is a clear affection for the
Ozu-like quiet serenity of Japan.
Yang’s script is unusually honest and challenging, her leads really make it hit
home. Dynamic and vivacious but deep as
a river, Sakura Andô is simply remarkable as Rie. It is an award caliber performance. Conversely, it takes a while for Iura Arata’s
pitch-perfect portrayal to sink in, striking uncomfortable chords between
bitterness and resignation. Boasting a
top flight ensemble from top to bottom, Homeland
is also distinguished and humanized by memorable supporting turns from
Kotomi Kyôno as Yun’s ex Suni and Tarô Suwa as his loving blacksheep capitalist
assured narrative debut, Yang masterfully controls the mood and tone, despite
the almost complete lack of soundtrack music.
Her approach is intimate and not surprisingly documentary-like, but Homeland never feels overly talky or
draggy. Indeed, the emotional drama
Homeland is a deeply compassionate
film, but it is also somewhat angry, plainly calling an older generation to
account for sacrificing their children on ideological grounds. Its unmistakable critique of North Korean
Communism might not sound like Academy fodder, but the foreign language
division can be surprising in a good way.
After all, The Lives of Others won
the Oscar and Andrzej Wajda’s Katyn
was nominated before it even had American distribution. Regardless, Our Homeland would be a worthy nominee that deserves an
Labels: 85th Academy Awards Foreign Language Submissions, Japanese Cinema, North Korea, Yang Yonghi