History has given Koreans ample reason for anger toward their Japanese neighbors, and in recent years Japanhas begun publicly acknowledging some of those past wrongs. But the docu "Watari-Gawa" is hardly a weighty meditation on this theme: Centering on some high schoolers' study-group efforts toward cultural exchange, pic doesn't have much to offer grownups. Earnest but banally inspirational feature will be best suited to educational and TV play in relevant territories.

History has given Koreans ample reason for anger toward their Japanese neighbors, and in recent years Japanhas begun publicly acknowledging some of those past wrongs. But the docu “Watari-Gawa” is hardly a weighty meditation on this theme: Centering on some high schoolers’ study-group efforts toward cultural exchange, pic doesn’t have much to offer grownups. Earnest but banally inspirational feature will be best suited to educational and TV play in relevant territories.

Students of the Hata district are shown “investigating” Nippon colonial policies toward Korea, with workers from the latter imported to Japan from 1910 through World War II. Inhumane living conditions, dangerous jobs and beatings were common for the million-plus slave laborers. During the war, myriad young Korean women were forced to prostitute themselves to Japanese troops.

One of the stronger scenes here is a brief statement by one such “comfort woman,” now elderly, who was among the first to publicly accuse the Japanese government of this hitherto covered-up abuse.

But direct testimonial occupies little time in “Watari-Gawa,” which spends far more time following its scrubbed teen protagonists — including a Korean-Japanese high school group led by a junior peace activist — as they study lingering “Korean problems.”

They tour the site of past slave labor, a narrator duly assuring us that “these young students can barely comprehend the horror”; they weep over harsh discoveries; they make speeches about cross-cultural understanding.

While well-intentioned, this material often seems precious. Even a climactic visit to Seoul stays on the same chirpy, up-with-people plane.

Lensing and editing are decent, synth score drippy.

Watari-Gawa: The River of Reconciliation

(JAPANESE -- DOCU)

Production

A Watari-Gawa Production Committee presentation. Directed by Duk-Chui Kim and Yasduyuki Moli.

Crew

Camera (color, 16mm), Youichi Koga; editing, Eiko Yoshida; music , Masami Hara; narration, Hisashi Ikawa. Reviewed at AMC Kabuki 8, San Francisco , Feb. 28, 1996. (In S.F. Asian American Festival.) Running time: 90 MIN.
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