No Longer Bystander or Part of the Audience

Documentary "My Heart is Not Broken Yet”

Lee Young-ju | 기사입력 2020/03/29 [18:52]

No Longer Bystander or Part of the Audience

Documentary "My Heart is Not Broken Yet”

Lee Young-ju | 입력 : 2020/03/29 [18:52]

Song Sin-do is beautiful


▲ Documentary directed by AHN Hae-ryong, 2007


She has a dirty mouth.

She is outspoken.

She smiles often.

She cries often.

She sings well.

She is full of spirit.

She is fearless.

Song Sin-do is beautiful.


Song Sin-do, a daring 15-year-old who did not like the marriage her parents had arranged and so ran away on the first night of her honeymoon. Song Sin-do, who didn't know the word jeongsindae [the name of the "corps" of sex slaves] but knew that if she followed the Japanese military she did not have to stay in the marriage she did not want and could earn some money, and so became one of the Japanese military’s “comfort women.”


Song Sin-do, who found herself having to spread her legs in front of a solider she did not know, even before her first period and before she knew what sex was. Song sin-do, who after her first period, went through countless cycles of pregnancy and miscarriage, and finally had to pull a dead 7-month-old fetus from her womb with her own hands.  Song Sin-do, a mother who had two children that survived the harsh life of a “comfort woman”, but whom she had to give away during the war.


Song Sin-do, who was tricked by a Japanese soldier after the war and followed him to Japan only to be abandoned, and has had to live her whole life as a stranger with no real home. Song Sin-do, a wife who lived with an ethnic Korean she met in Japan, but who could not have sexual relations with her wrecked body, and so lived in a sexless marriage while calling her husband “father.”


▲ Documentary directed by AHN Hae-ryong, 2007


Song Sin-do, who couldn’t forgive Japan and the war that had trampled on her, and told her story to the world and to Japanese society. Song Sin-do, who fought her way past a district court and appellate court all the way to the Supreme Court of Japan only to receive the same answer: “The nation is not obliged to compensate or apologize for an incident for which the statute of limitations has expired.” Song Sin-do, who said after the final decision, “I lost the case but my heart is not broken,” and started to sing about her life using the melody of a Japanese military song.


Song sin-do, her life has been tumultuous. She has accepted that tumultuous life and pushes her way through, and her fearless journey is beautiful.


Support Association – discovering oneself through these women


After the late Kim Hak-sun’s testimony made their existence known to the world in 1991, the Japanese military’s “comfort women” became objects of guilt, pity, and compassion for me. When I met these damaged survivors face to face, guilt that for so long we did not even know they existed and compassion for the pain they suffered clashed within me, and I did not know how to act.


It was impossible for me to even imagine the tragedy that they had suffered. I could not estimate the weight of their pain, pooled in each furrow of the long time they had spent living with what had happened to them. I worried that friendly behavior, a compassionate look, or a word of comfort from me might instead become another of their wounds. It was difficult to even strike up a casual conversation. Until now, the Japanese military’s “comfort women” were such “objects” to me.


▲ Song shows tattoos and scars from the Japanese military  ©My Heart Is Not Broken Yet


However, after seeing the documentary “My Heart is Not Broken Yet”, I have stopped seeing its subject Song Sin-do as a comfort woman whose existence is separate from mine, and now see her more like my own grandmother─sometimes annoying, sometimes emotionally moving, sometimes revealing embarrassing personal information. The movie invited me into a relationship with her that seems so natural that it cannot even be perceived. 


It might be exaggerating to talk of a “relationship” because of watching a documentary, yet I really feel like I have formed a relationship with Song through this movie.  To me, her image is no longer the fixed one of guilt and pity that comes to mind when I think of a “comfort woman.” Her life has become a part of mine.


This is because of the women of the “Trial for Korean-Japanese Comfort Women Support Association” (hereafter “Support Association”) formed by Japanese and ethnic Koreans living in Japan after Song Sin-do’s existence became known in 1992. Or rather, it is because of the relationship the women of the Support Association formed with Song Sin-do.


Song Sin-do has a rough tongue and a violent temper. She told the members of the support association formed to help her, “If you’re not going to see it through, don’t even start,” and asked a journalist who wanted to write a positive article about her, “Can you really do this right?” with suspicion. Not trusting people had become her way of life, and she could not wholly accept a helping hand or kindness. She continually doubted that these people would really believe what she said, and that they wouldn’t betray her.


But thanks to Song, the members of the Support Association discovered themselves.  After they lost the first case, Support Association members asked her, carefully, “Can you see this through? Are you going to keep fighting?” Instead of answering, Song Sin-do asked them in return, “Are you all going to see this through, or not?”


▲ Documentary directed by AHN Hae-ryong, 2007


These women, who had started this group with the creed of “whatever Song Sin-do wants” and believed they were asking out of concern for her, realized with a pang that their concern was actually a part of their own cowardice regarding carrying this responsibility until the end. Their intention─to define their position as merely assistants in resolving the issue of the Japanese military comfort women– was laid bare by one harsh question from Song.


When they had first met Song, the Support Association members had worried how they would go about fighting in a legal battle next to the fierce, seemingly cold-hearted elderly woman, but they realized that before they knew it, she had become the one comforting and giving strength to them.


When they had lost the case and their heads were hanging and tears starting to fall, what roused them were the uninhibited curses that flew out of Song’s mouth at the Japanese government. At her scolding thunderously, “This country is in this shape because of the state its politicians!” and “I’m telling you no war is ever acceptable!  You need to know that!” and then starting to sing, the Support Association members were able to smile and stop weeping. They gained the strength to prepare for the next fight.  This woman is truly the most indomitable of our times.


Whether because of guilt or sympathy, those who had wanted to help a pitiful or wronged woman to make themselves feel better had no place in front of Song Sin-do’s harsh questions, merciless scolding, and clear singing. There couldn’t be “assistants.” True friends of the Japanese military’s “comfort women” had to become active agents in the struggle. With this, the “comfort women” changed from abstract “objects” into the other halves of relationships that permeated my life, which affected and were affected by me.


▲ Documentary directed by AHN Hae-ryong, 2007


Song’s power to make it impossible to remain an onlooker


I cried throughout the movie. I don’t know if it was because of the depth of the pain that Song suffered, my rage that no settlement had been achieved despite the unquestionable occurrence of this tragedy, or my shame at my sometimes forgetting about this situation as my own life goes on.


But I am sure, at least, that those tears were different from the tears that I have shed before - every time I go to the Wednesday protests in front of the Japanese embassy, and every time I have attended a funeral for one of these elderly women.


It feels like if those tears continued, Song Sin-do would appear abruptly and scold me, like this: “You’re going to keep leaking and just quit, aren’t you?” “Can you see this through?” “Your heart is what’s important, your heart!” I am no longer part of the audience of a movie, or a bystander to a fight.


By Lee Young-ju

Published: February 27, 2009

Translated by Marilyn Hook


*Original article:

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