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Where EAST meets the Northwest

MISSING. Wearing her motherís kimono, Megumi, at left, poses for a photo taken by her father just months before she was abducted in 1977. (Photo courtesy of Safari Media)

From The Asian Reporter, V17, #4 (January 23, 2007), page 11.

Like any ordinary day

The abduction of Megumi Yokota

Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story
Directed by Patty Kim and Chris Sheridan
Produced by Safari Media, 2006
Opens Saturday, February 3 at Portlandís Hollywood Theatre

By Polo

Thereís a reason, a good reason, why ancient mythologies endure. Japanís Tale of Genji, the Hellenic adventures recalled in The Iliad and The Odyssey, and of course the characters prominent in Biblical and Hindu texts, are as true today as at the time of their creation, one or two or three thousand years ago. They are true to our humanity. Insofar as only humans worry about whatís true ó they are the Truth.

Abduction, a multiple-award-winning film by Patty Kim and Chris Sheridan, is that true. It is all at once: a story of human love and cruelty, sorrow and stubbornness; a lyrical journey as compelling as any classical legend; and the documentary ideal of bringing it all, of bringing this truth, home.

"Our life was normal until that day," says Yokota Sakie (Sakie Yokota). "Like every morning she left for school, she said: ĎIíll see you later.í"

That day, later that ordinary weekday afternoon, her 13-year-old daughter disappeared right off the sidewalk between after-school badminton and their home in suburban Niigata.

That was November 15, 1977. Thirty years ago. Megumiís mother and father have been looking for her since. Their love is epic. But so too are the contemporary geopolitics, to say nothing of the historic antipathy, between two muscular neighboring nations at the core of this drama. Their pretty little girl was lost to all that.

Not just a missing schoolgirl

A clue surfaced unexpectedly 10 years after Megumi vanished. Another tragedy. Communist North Korean agents, trying to rattle South Korea in the months ahead of Seoulís hosting the Olympic Games, blew up an inbound airliner. Everyone on board perished. A captured North Korean operative confessed that a kidnapped young woman had been forced to train her in Japanese language and manners.

In two scenes, as profoundly human as those of suffering family, as those of responsible and irresponsible statesmen, the filmís directors let us watch a North Korean defector, a not-so-simple former foot soldier, a tool of a nationís foreign policy, talk about who and what he is, about why and how a schoolgirl was taken from her anguishing mother. This is great documentary. No omniscient commentary, no interpretive angling ó just this thug. A very human one.

Over the following years, an inquisitive and persistent crime reporter started following hints and whispers ó a 24-year-old carpenter and his date disappeared; a phone company employee, same age, and his girlfriend vanished; a couple of 22-year-old college kids, gone. All of them, not so coincidentally, from cities on Japanís coast facing the Korean peninsula.

In the 1990s Mr. and Mrs. Yokota got organized, and they did it with an association of families all waking to the same nightmare. Their stolen children were political slave labor. Worse: they were locked up by the belligerent and paranoid regime of Kim Il-sung, a government not recognized by Japan. Without diplomatic relations, Japan could not talk to North Korea.

Epic-scale extortion

A third tragedy, North Koreaís national famines, and Japanís offer of food aid, moved the story forward. Over the next ten years, President Kim traded bits of information and, ultimately, some of his governmentís captives for diplomatic recognition and humanitarian relief.

That, of course, is not the whole awful tale or the entire truth. The Megumi Yokota story goes on. Bad leaders, suffering families. Megumiís story screens at northeast Portlandís Hollywood Theatre next month.

Abduction producers say 100 regular Japanese folks, hundreds of South Koreans, and many untold more from countries and cultures North Korean bosses believe they need to infiltrate, have likewise vanished on their way home.

Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story will be shown February 3, 4, 10, and 11
at the Hollywood Theatre, located at 4122 N.E. Sandy Blvd. in Portland.
For more information, including show times, call (503) 281-4215 or visit <www.hollywoodtheatre.org>. To learn more, visit <www.abductionfilm.com>.