DER Documentary

So Long Asleep: Waking the Ghosts of a War

So Long Asleep: Waking the Ghosts of a War launch preview watch a preview

by David Plath
color, 60 min, 2016
in English, Korean and Japanese
with English subtitles

This DVD is closed-captioned for the hearing impaired


Non-profit, K-12, and Individual pricing also available
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Thanks to books and films such as Unbroken and Bridge Over the River Kwai many Americans know that Imperial Japan forced Allied military prisoners to perform heavy labor during the Asia-Pacific War. Few also know that hordes of Asian civilian men suffered the same treatment.

For seven decades the governments of Japan and Korea have sparred over who is responsible for the dead souls of Empire's children. A chance encounter between a Japanese Buddhist priest and a Korean graduate student sparked a bi-national people-power project that for 20 years has been locating and retrieving the remains of Korean laborers who died in Hokkaido, Japan's large northern island. On the 70th anniversary of the end of the war, project volunteers carried 115 sets of remains on a controversial pilgrimage through Japan's major cities en route to a contested reburial in Seoul's Municipal Cemetery. So Long Asleep takes us to visit the excavation sites, and then we travel with the volunteers on their pilgrimage.

Project co-leader Yoshihiko Tonohira, chief priest of a rural temple in western Hokkaido, was born after the war; he learned only years later that there were Korean laborers buried in his region. He began to locate them, cremate them, and provide memorial services for them. Co-leader Byung-Ho Chung was in Japan doing fieldwork for his doctoral dissertation when he happened to visit Tonohira's temple and learned of the excavations. He promised to return with a crew of Korean students and anthropologists trained to excavate while preserving evidence of causes of death.

Together they launched a series of workshops that stand on a hurtful past to build a hopeful future. Volunteers, most of them students, come to Hokkaido for a fortnight: Japanese, Koreans, zainichi offspring of Korean migrants in Japan, plus others from elsewhere. During the day, supervised by forensic anthropologists, they clear away foliage and dig for remains. At night they meet to build a community of mutual respect that can stay the new waves of ethnic and nationalist rancor washing across East Asia. Participants speak of the life-changing power of witnessing with others the evidence of historic hatred.

So Long Asleep is an uplifting report on what aroused citizens can accomplish when their governments drift away from attending to duty.

Film Festivals, Screenings, Awards
Award of Merit, Impact Docs, 2018
Bronze Award, Spotlight Documentary Film Awards, 2017
Margaret Mead Film Festival, 2017
Cinema Soup Film Festival, 2018
Ogeechee International History Film Festival, 2018
MayDay Film Festival, 2018

Special Screenings
Midwest Conference on Asian Affairs, 2016
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2016
University of Chicago, 2016
University of Pittsburgh, 2017
University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2017
Annual meetings of the Association for Asian Studies, Toronto, 2017
University of Missouri - St. Louis, 2017

Related Films
Returning Souls
The Auschwitz Dialogues
Otaiya: Japan's Hidden Christians

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