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When Patty Kim spotted a newspaper article about a kidnapping case on the other side of the globe, involving a delicate relationship between two countries with a long history of enmity, she and her husband, Chris Sheridan, decided it would be a great subject for a film.
It took almost four years to reach this point, but the two Canadian-bred, Washington-based filmmakers have finished their documentary. Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story is the tale of 13 ordinary Japanese citizens (including 13-year-old Megumi) kidnapped by North Korea in the late 1970s—and of the attempts by the victims’ families to learn what happened to their lost children and siblings.
Although the National Geographic and CBS News veterans struggled financially to complete the movie, Sheridan, 37, and Kim, 36, say their lack of a big budget offered them certain advantages over the Japanese reporters who’ve been covering the case since the kidnappings were revealed in 1997. “[A large crew] just wouldn’t have worked with this story. It required something much more quiet and personal, just on a practical level. The apartment where Megumi’s parents live is tiny. We could barely get around.’’
Sheridan, who shot and edited the film, considers the latest generation of small digital cameras a significant boon—and not just technically. “People don’t take them as seriously as those big ones you see on the news,” he says. “So they kind of relax. Which is perfect for what we’re doing.’’
Abduction may surprise many viewers in the West, where the kidnappings were not widely reported, but Kim was not expecting the film to cause as big a sensation in Japan as it has. “Here we are, two Westerners, who walk in and take this story and try to explore it from the point of view of the parents,” she says. “All these journalists who’ve been covering it for years say that, ‘I didn’t even know that [footage] existed,’ or ‘I didn’t know that Megumi’s mother was a Christian,’ or ‘I didn’t know that it was that hard for them.’”
Sheridan suggests that Abduction “speaks directly to the issue in a way that hasn’t been done before, and that’s shocking to people in Japan. There are things in the film that they would never attempt to put in, or to get. Because it’s too intimate, or maybe just a little bit too far outside the cultural possibilities.’’
In Japan, Kim is a bit of a cultural conundrum herself, since she’s of Korean descent. “I always got the sense that they thought of me as a Westerner, not as a South Korean,’’ she says. “Although they did acknowledge I was South Korean.”
“I love the fact that I don’t fit neatly into their world, into their categories. That I don’t fit their ideas of what a Korean person should or shouldn’t be thinking on this particular issue—to me, that’s the truth of the film,” she says. “I think that when we indulge ourselves in this crazy idea that we’re separate from each other, that’s when we start to do the bad stuff to each other.’’—Mark Jenkins
Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story shows at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 20, at the National Geographic Museum at Explorers Hall’s Grosvenor Auditorium, 1600 M St. NW, $10, (202) 857-7700; the film opens Friday, Nov. 24, at the Landmark E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW, $9.50, (202) 452-7672.