Sunday, February 12, 2012

Notes on Our Homeland by Yang Yonghi (International Forum /Berlin Filmfest 2012 II.

for Thérese Gonzalez, Florence MC Nguyen, Shaheen Dill-Riaz and my sister Barbara Lürenbaum

"I am burning, everything is burning, the whole universe is burning." (Ritwik Ghatak, 1925 - 1976)

There are films and filmmakers you discover - if by luck, accident or as a result of your search for them. But there are also films which discover you - more: they hit you in the middle of your heart and there is nothing you can do about. Their "content" can be alien to you like for example the story of a Korean family living in Japan, the partition of Korea or  even the probably very asian tension between individuality and parental love like in the films by Yang Yonghi.

OUR HOMELAND is the third film and the first narrative one by Yang Yonghi. Her first two films were documentaries, essays and explicit autobiographical films about her family and herself but they are also  microscopic views on the history of the partition of Korea which is evident in the most intimate space of one family among many who live in Japan.

Like Ozu once said, there is no grammar of film, each good film establishes its own grammar. It doesn´t mind if you are North, - or South Korean, Asian, American or European like me. You can be from the most engrossed corner of this planet, the films by Yang Yonghi hit with you with a natural power unless you are blind for this power and the beauty of these films.
Do we have forgotten that Chaplin was as popular in Japan or India like he was in America or or Europe. Or have we forgotten the the greatest french director Jean Renoir found his roots neither in France nor in the USA during his emigration but i faraway India during making his masterpiece THE RIVER?

French writer and filmmaker Marguerite Duras once wrote about Chaplin that he was able to perform the masses. In a kind Yang Yonghi even though rooted in a very concrete historical and cultural context approached a very similar universality. She forces us to ask ourselves where we come from. She doesn´t just PERFORM for us her story or her "Songs about Herself". She SHARES her story, if in the most daring and experimental home movie ever made DEAR PYONGYANG, in this strange heartbreaking docudrama SONA, THE OTHER MYSELF (now renamed to GOODBYE PYONGYANG) or in her first fiction film KAZOKU NO KUNI (Our Homeland.
If you have seen her first two films you immediately recognize in the dialogues some documented sentences from her documentaries. The separation of Yang Yonghi´s family is a cemented fact.
History has stolen the family in OUR HOMELAND 25 years and 25 years of life time they will never get back. It is as lost like stellar matter swallowed by a black hole.
The sister, the parents, the uncle, the class mates or the lover who missed the brother, son, nephew, friend or lover for 25 years  - all have to deal with lost time. There remains this hole of life time. The true magic of OUR HOMELAND lies in the paradox. We know as all the characters of the films are aware of -  that the time the family and the lovers are missing  is lost forever. But in some images there is an echo, an idea of a longing for a life, no one has been able to live.
It can be sensed in the incredible beautiful scene of a reunion with the brother, who returns after 25 years to Japan (for medical treatment with a special permission by the authorities in North Korea) with his school mates and his former love.  An old love song is a bittersweet reflex of a romance which is buried under the weight of 25 years. A last meeting with the brother and the love of his youth. Both are married to different partners. The separation will be final. They walk through an idyllic landscape. For a fleeting moment we realize in all its power the happiness which really never took place. The film celebrates this moments as long as possible.
There are things in this film you can describe and things you can´t. There are lapses of silence in this film between the dialogues. When the pain has no words, the bodies of these excellent actors are cramping themselves, they are beginning to dither. It often seems they are close to blast.

As we know cinema is a result of the mechanism of a camera and its ability to betray the human eye, the films by Yang Yonghi remind us rather in a human body and a soul than in this technical phenomenon of the moving image. It seems we learn rather to trust this strong and also vulnerable body and soul than the cold perfection of the cinematic device. As she said in an interview from 2007, "when she began to film her family, she began to consider the camera not as a machine which records but as a part of her body".

I don´t know really what is happening with me when I see the films by Yang Yonghi. I knew I am confronted with a piece of history from another country, another culture. But I am still under schlock how deep these films are moving me.
In  DEAR PYONGYANG I felt like seeing my mother the second time dying.
In SONA, THE OTHER MYSELF (now: Goodbye Pyongyang), I realized a strange love and affection to my own family I buried for a long time in my heart.
In OUR HOMELAND, Yang Yonghi´s "Search for the lost time"  seems to be at the same time a poet, a chronicler of her own story but also a scientist who re-constructs a situation she experienced for approaching a better understanding of her own story. We witness both, her growing of her understanding of her story while making this film as our growing of understanding while seeing this film.
In his "Search for the lost Time", Marcel Proust wrote: " We don´t  approach happiness but we get an awareness about the reasons which avoid us to be."
If I was´nt clear enough to express why my heart is burning from the films by Yang Yonghi there is nothing I can do about it. I made a strange journey with these films and the only thing I know, they brought me back home via the way around Japan and North Korea.

text on DEAR PYONGYANG by Yang Yonghi are here.

part two of the text on this film can be found here

Next screenings at the Berlin Filmfestival: February 14, Cinemaxx 4, 21.45, February 17, Cubix 9, 20.00. Theatrical release in Japan will be August 2012 and only the heaven knows when it will be available on DVD or through theatrical releases in other countries.


  1. Thank you for this beautiful text.
    You make me want to see Yang Yonghi's movies!

  2. I am sure you will like them all.