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Yamada hits North Korea

Acclaimed Japanese helmer's pics to unspool at Pyongyang fest

TOKYO — After a half-century ban on Japanese cultural imports to North Korea, the first-ever Japanese films to be shown officially in the reclusive country will hit the screens today as part of the Pyongyang Intl. Film Festival.

Eight movies from acclaimed Japanese director Yoji Yamada, whose heart-warming tales have been a staple of Japanese cinema for decades, will unspool at the festival.

Late North Korean leader Kim Il-sung. led commandos against the Japanese armies occupying the country and had a bitter hatred for Japan, which had colonized the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945; he tried to erase all vestiges of Korean culture. Kim died in 1994.

The dictator, however, was also a fan of Yamada’s series “It’s Tough to Be a Man.” Two movies from the series, featuring the lovable loser character Tora-san, will be shown at the festival.

Other pics on the agenda include Yamada’s “Family,” “School — 15 years Old” and 1988’s “Free and Easy.”

North Korean quest

Japanese conglom company Shochiku, which produced all of the Yamada films going to the festival, was contacted in Tokyo by an association of North Korean residents in Japan about taking the movies to the Stalinist state.

“I heard Kim Il-sung was a big fan of Tora-san, and I am looking forward to the reaction of North Korean audiences to my movies,” Yamada said before departing for the screenings in Pyongyang.

The movies will be dubbed into Korean so as not to offend anyone who may be put off by listening to Japanese.

The Pyongyang fest, launched in 1987, is held every two years. Present North Korean leader Kim Jong-il is reported to be a movie buff with a personal collection of 25,000 films. He also oversaw production of a North Korean knockoff of “Godzilla.”

Kim recently told members of the South Korean media, making a historic visit to Pyongyang, that he would have been a film critic or filmmaker if he had not been a politician.

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