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[Editorial] ‘Good-bye Pyongyang’

“Good-bye Pyongyang,” an 82-minute documentary now showing in cinemas across the country, filmed by a Korean resident in Japan, offers a glimpse of life in the North Korean capital through the eyes of a separated family living in the two countries. Director-producer Yang Yong-hi’s three brothers enjoy relative luxury, with consumer items sent by their parents in Japan over the past 30 years, but what impresses viewers is their quietness even during reunion parties in Pyongyang.

The eldest of the three died of what Yang explains as complications from depression. The focus of the film is not on the distorted fate of the men whom their father sent to the “socialist paradise” in the 1970s to stop them being subjected to discrimination in Japan as “zainichi.” The documentary features Son-hwa, Yang’s niece, who now is a freshman at Kim Il-sung University, who can write letters to her grandmother in fairly correct English.

Son-hwa wears orthodontia braces and sports Mickey Mouse socks and Hello Kitty stationery all sent by her loving grandma. She constantly giggles and babbles but asks her aunt to switch off the camera when she is going to tell her something she does not want to be heard by others. When she was taken to a big restaurant, she struggles to choose from a variety of Korean and foreign dishes, as she confesses to having never visited a place like that before.

Yang’s first visit to Pyongyang was 13 years ago. Her family in Osaka was able to visit North Korea occasionally but none of the three brothers was allowed to return to Japan. Yang herself cannot go to North Korea again because her first film, “Dear Pyongyang,” which won awards at Sundance and Berlin film festivals, irked North Korean authorities.

The film contains no politics. One just feels the reality from Yang’s narration praising her sister-in-law for being able to do all household chores in just two hours a day while water comes from the faucet, and Son-hwa’s exclamation at a power stoppage during filming indoors.