Korean-Japanese Animator Sheds Light on Suffering in N.Korea

  • By Kim Sung-hyun

    July 07, 2022 12:29

    Eiji Han Shimizu's animated feature "True North" focuses on the human rights abuses in North Korea. Shimizu (52), who is Korean Japanese, alighted on the subject more than a decade ago.

    "I was looking for examples of human rights violations around the world, because I was interested in the rights of people and the pursuit of happiness," he said in an interview with the Chosun Ilbo to coincide with the film's release here last week. "But North Korea's political prison camps will be remembered as the worst examples of human rights violations in the 21st century" and deserve to be studied by themselves.

    Eiji Han Shimizu

    He interviewed some 40 North Korean defectors through Human Rights Watch in 2010 while he was a documentary and cartoon producer. "The reality I discovered was far more brutal than I had imagined," he said. "I was always in a dilemma about whether to tone down the examples of rape, torture and forced labor in my films."

    Why are the characters in the film speaking English? "I first thought about having them speak Korean or Japanese, but I felt my top priority was to spread the news around the world instead of focusing on Korea and Japan, which are to some extent familiar with the situation," he explained.

    "True North," is set during the famine of the mid-1990s known as the "arduous march" and focuses on a Japanese family who are duped into moving to the North, which advertises itself as a workers' paradise, only to end up in a political prison camp.

    After earning an MBA from the University of Miami, Shimizu worked for Sun Microsystems and Japanese headhunters Recruit. "But despite the high salary I felt empty," he said. He quit work and spent two-and-a-half years traveling around the world to make a documentary on the conditions of happiness.

    "True North" is his first animated feature and was invited to the Annecy International Animation Film Festival in 2020. His next animated feature will cover the subject of global warming. "Instead of creating commercial works, I want to focus on subjects that are important to me and people around me," he said.

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