Chinese ‘comfort women’ film debuts in Japan, with help from younger generation

A documentary about Chinese “comfort women” during World War II has made its Japanese debut – six years after its release – with help from an international student from China.

The film, titled Twenty Two, depicts the daily lives of Chinese women who were forced to be sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II.

The documentary was released in 2017, but was first screened in Japan at the Kansai Queer Film Festival in Osaka on September 18 – the 92nd anniversary of the Mukden incident of 1931, which is seen as the start of Japan’s invasion of China.

Director Guo Ke said the Japanese debut was made possible because a Chinese university student in Japan recommended the documentary to the film festival’s organisers.

“Six years have passed. I did not expect that a Chinese student would now bring the documentary to Japan,” Guo said.

“It shows the young generation is carrying on the mission … and it never stops.”

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The name comes from the 22 victims featured in the documentary, which was filmed in 2014. It was director Guo Ke’s second film on the topic. His previous film, Thirty Two, produced in 2012, was about 32 victims who were still alive at the time.

Guo previously said making the films was a race against time as the victims were all over 90 years old.

When Twenty Two premiered in China in 2017, only eight of the women filmed were still alive. In late August, that number dropped to just one.

Only 10 victims in mainland China registered by the China Comfort Women Research Centre are still alive.

About 200,000 victims from mainland China, Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and elsewhere were forced to work as sex slaves by the Japanese military in the 1930s and 1940s.

More than 30,000 people in China donated to fund the production of Twenty Two, a documentary about Chinese women forced to be sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during World War II. Photo: Weibo

Japan’s history of wartime sex slavery has remained a highly contentious issue in diplomacy between Tokyo and its neighbours, including China.

Guo said he was pleased that the film debuted in Japan on the 92nd anniversary of the start of the country’s invasion of China.

“It is our vision that more people can know [the victims’] experiences. It is our responsibility to let those who should know the past of these ‘comfort women’ to see them,” Guo wrote on social media platform Weibo.

Guo said he was grateful for the public’s support in producing the film, with more than 30,000 people in China donating during an online fund drive six years ago.

The production team continues to update the film’s social media followers about the survivors. They also sell commemorative items, including badges and tote bags, related to the film, with profits donated to the victims.

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Guo said he had been touched when a 22-year-old Chinese audience member at the Osaka screening said she always carried a badge from the film when she travelled so the survivors could “see a bigger world”.

“As long as there is one person paying attention to the victims, our team will continue to work hard,” Guo said.


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