As part of International Education Week, Holly Didi-Ogren, assistant professor of modern languages, prepared a presentation on ethnicity and “invisible minorities” in Japan.
The presentation, which included a screening of the Japanese film “Go,” directed by Isao Yukisada, was held on Thursday, Nov. 15, in the Library auditorium.
Based on a novel by the Japanese writer Kazuki Kaneshiro, “Go” follows the story of Sugihara, a high school student in Japan, as he learns about and accepts his North Korean ethnicity. Like many Japanese-born Koreans, Sugihara looks and speaks exactly like his Japanese neighbors, making him an “invisible minority,” someone who appears to be no different than anyone else.
The film begins with Sugihara in an ethnic Korean school, one of many in Japan designed to promote Korean culture and offer a certain amount of protection from discrimination. After cursing at his teacher in Japanese – one of the highest offenses at his school – Sugihara is required to receive his education elsewhere.
He makes the brave decision to enroll in a Japanese school. However, his new classmates know of his ethnicity, forcing Sugihara to resort to violence to protect himself from their cruelty.
Sugihara’s problems only increase when he meets Sakurai, a friendly and talkative Japanese student whom he quickly falls in love with. Although the two have everything in common, from a hatred for Japanese rap music to a love of Bruce Lee, Sugihara hides his ethnicity from her, fearing that she will not love him if she knows he is not Japanese.
“Go” highlights the prejudice present in Japan and its long history. Although the tension between ethnic groups has existed for generations, Didi-Ogren said it was heightened in 1910, when Japan annexed Korea and Koreans became subjects of the Japanese empire.
Now, Koreans are the largest minority in Japan, numbering just over 900,000 individuals. Many of them come from families who have lived in Japan for a long period of time, yet they are still not considered Japanese citizens. Even Japanese-born Koreans, like Sugihara, must carry alien registration cards with them at all times.
According to Didi-Ogren, “Go” was the first commercial film to address the presence and experiences of Koreans in Japan. It was also the first movie produced by a partnership of South Korean and Japanese filmmakers.
In 2006, “Go” was screened during the Midwest Japanese Film Festival. The festival is run by the Japan Foundation, a program which aims to promote an understanding of Japanese culture, language and history.