Behind Forgotten Eyes (2007)

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Overall Rating 78%
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Yunjin Kim
Yunjin Kim
Review by Chad
Added: August 17, 2007
War is hell, as that infamous quote goes. It's hell for the men and women who are out on the front lines risking their lives everyday, and to hear some people tell it, the ramifications of war for those of us in our homelands are just as bad. People gripe about such trivial things as additional airport security and bridge closings when suspicious activity is going on, and although both of those things are an inconvenience, it's certainly not hell for those of us who have the luxury of being at home with our families while a war is going on. Now, think back to the so-called "comfort women" that were employed by Japan during World War II - these ladies weren't involved in the war and never agreed to "serve" the armies, but "serve" they did as sexual slaves. Behind Forgotten Eyes puts faces to this vile piece of Japanese history and explains what happened to these women in graphic, heartbreaking detail.

For those of you who have no clue what I'm talking about when I use the term "comfort women", watch this film or go look it up on Wikipedia - a full history of this topic is a little bit outside the scope of this review, and although I will give a brief outline of it here, it's certainly not going to be enough to show you the full scope of what happened. In a nutshell, the Japanese army was running rampant over their Asian neighbors during the war, and - men being men - the individual soldiers had special "needs" that could only be taken care of by the fairer sex. Of course, it's hard to get a date in a town that you're in the process of pillaging, so rape was the order of the day for these men. However, lots of rape led to lots of sexually transmitted diseases, so Japan set up "comfort stations" which enlisted Japanese prostitutes to serve the soldiers. That's fine and all, but when the number of women who would agree to do this became heavily outweighed by the number of men who wanted their services, women were kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery in these stations. Girls as young as twelve or thirteen were snatched away from their families for the pleasure of these men, and it wasn't uncommon at all for these slaves to die from disease, malnourishment, abuse, or even by their own hands.

Narrated by Yunjin Kim (Lost), Behind Forgotten Eyes allows a few of these women to tell their stories and give a first-hand perspective on what exactly they had to endure for upwards of ten years. We hear about how they were snatched from their families or duped into this slavery as well as the effects that it's had on them over the last sixty years. In an interesting twist, we also hear from a few former Japanese soldiers who visited these stations and hear their opinions on the subject, and although they're generally remorseful, one can't help but feel that they're not too remorseful... especially as we listen to one man almost brag about a plan that he came up with to avoid having to pay for the comfort women by simply finding women to rape for free.

Now, I have to confess that I'm not exactly a history buff, so although I knew the gist of what happened, I wasn't aware of the full magnitude of torment that these poor women experienced. Watching this has changed all that, as the first three-fourths of the movie spell it all out in horrifying detail. Hearing a faceless narrator tell these stories would have been unsettling enough, but watching an old woman tell us about what happened to her for years on end before breaking down and crying is just hard to sit through... and I don't mean that in a bad way, either. Director Anthony Gilmore has captured some truly heartbreaking material on film that never explicitly attempts to be heartbreaking, and this results in a film that is informative, disturbing, and excellent all at the same time.

With that said, I have to admit that I did have a problem with the last "act" of the film. You see, the material that I've discussed thus far in this review takes up the largest chunk of the running time, but the last twenty minutes or so is devoted to how these women are handling things today. We learn about the places that they're now living in and how they want the Japanese government to both admit to their wrongdoing and compensate the victims for the pain that they went through, and while I understand the reasoning behind including this section, I felt that it just didn't work as well as the filmmakers assumedly hoped that it would. My biggest problem with the material wasn't the actual inclusion of it, but instead, the length of it. The arguments presented here basically boils down to the women saying "We were raped, we want you to admit that you did this to us" while the Japanese government says "It never happened" and "It was blown out of proportion", and we at home get to listen to the two sides go back and forth with these statements time and time again. It gets a bit monotonous after a while, and I found myself wishing that they'd just move on to the next segment or roll the credits already.

Had that final section been cut down a bit, I would have given this film a perfect score. It's truly an amazing documentary and tackles a difficult subject with ease, and even though this is Anthony Gilmore's first film (according to IMDb), his work comes across as that of a seasoned professional. Even though I wasn't a huge fan of how the final chunk of the film was handled, I still have to highly recommend this to you readers as it's a damned good film. 8/10.
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