WWII traumas live on more than six decades later in “63 Years On,” a low-key but determined documentary concerning the “comfort women” supplied by the Japanese government for the sexual pleasure of its troops. In contrast to his 147-minute “Repatriation,” a commanding docu about South Korean political prisoners that won the Freedom of Expression award at Sundance in 2004, helmer Kim Dong-won’s latest is a mere 60 minutes, but no less powerful for its brevity. A tour of politically themed and docu fests is assured, and with a slight trim, the pic would neatly fit into pubcasters’ schedules.
Traversing contempo Asia, “63 Years On” intros five women (a Korean, a Chinese, two Filipinas and one Dutch) who reveal their experiences as survivors of the estimated 200,000 sex slaves from 13 different countries used by Nipponese soldiers during WWII.
Recruited for carnal duty while still in their teens, all five women have grueling stories to tell. Though obviously still distressed talking about their decades-old traumas, the women inspire with their brave willingness to confront the past. Pic accompanies some of them back to the “comfort stations” where they were repeatedly raped.
Interviews are moving by themselves, but the helmer doesn’t skimp on his research. Use of archival footage is excellent. Consulting with Chinese, Korean and Japanese historians, the pic reveals the Japanese army developed the system of on- and off-camp brothels to protect against the spread of venereal disease among the military, and to ensure that soldiers refrained from unauthorized violence.
Confirming the women’s testimony, historians speak of a highly controlled official system regulated right down to government-issued condoms called “Assault No. 1.”
Film’s rigorous history lesson also deals with the U.S.’ somewhat lenient handling of Japanese war criminals and its willingness to put the comfort-women issue to one side. The final third of the film documents how one elderly Korean woman, Kim Hak-sun, by speaking of her ordeal on TV, created an international groundswell to lobby the Japanese government for an official apology.HD visuals are not the pic’s strong suit. Mary Evjen Olsen’s English-language narration lacks polish, but at least eschews sensationalism. Other tech aspects are pro.