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This moving and impeccably constructed documentary was made for Westerners, but it’s easy to understand why Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story caused such buzz in Japan. The fate of Megumi Yokota, a 13-year-old girl kidnapped in 1977 from the northern Japanese city of Niigata, is a bigger story in that country than elsewhere, of course. But Washington-based directors Patty Kim and Chris Sheridan distinguish their film from more decorous Japanese treatments of the case by unabashedly depicting the anger and sorrow of the people left behind. At least 12 other Japanese—all young but older than Yokota—were nabbed from beaches and coastal towns in the same period, and in 1997, the rumors about the abductions proved true: The kidnappers were North Korean agents who seized people to tutor spies in Japan’s language and customs. The families of the victims organized to demand that the abductees be returned, forcing then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to raise the issue with North Korean despot Kim Jong-il. Some of the 13 ultimately came home, but others did not, so the subject remains contentious in Japan. The basic facts of the tale are no secret to anyone who follows international news, but Sheridan and Kim add many details that mainstream journalists didn’t report. They get unparalleled access to Yokota’s parents, who each reacted quite differently to the loss of their daughter, and also spend time with the relatives of others who were shanghaied to Pyongyang, finding them equally haunted by their losses. The directors structure Abduction as a mystery, doling out information slowly for maximum impact; they even manage to make an audio clip of the 13-year-old Yokota’s choral solo detonate like a small bombshell. This isn’t the first documentary to show that public rage at Japanese politicians, usually well repressed, can sometimes boil over; Kazuo Hara’s scalding The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On remains the definitive study of that rare phenomenon. Fury is just a small part, however, of Sheridan and Kim’s fascinating movie, which also encompasses anguish, empathy, persistence, and the sheer strangeness that can sometimes devour everyday life.

—Mark Jenkins