Edinburgh Fringe 2010
It is estimated some 200,000 women were abducted by the Japanese military from all over Asia to be used as sex slaves. They were called ‘comfort women’. Here, Haerry Kim has created a moving and superbly performed account of the life of one particular woman.
On the stage are two boxes and a screen with a moving image going over an old woman’s face like a searchlight. It is the face of one of the comfort women, a sickeningly ironic term for the horrendous suffering of girls that had to endure between 25-35 rapes per day. But this piece is in no way gratuitous or melodramatic, it is simply a portrayal of a forgotten life.
Kim starts as the old lady, she holds a pad and pencil which she is using to draw the faces of all the comfort woman, in order to record and remember them. She then becomes a little girl chasing a butterfly which is projected on the screen, interchanging between her mother, her father and several other characters. We hear of her father’s death at the hands of the Japanese and her recruitment into what she believed would be working in a factory.
It is a straightforward story simply told, but Kim moves between numerous characters and creates imagined space with effortless grace. Her characterizations are easily identifiable as she changes her voice and demeanor markedly for each one. We are with her one hundred percent throughout as she invents numerous locations with the help of only two boxes and the occasional image.
The story is told with the feeling of utmost respect, but she also rationalizes it in the context of war. Her portrayal of the girl as she is kept in the camp all day servicing men from all ranks is natural and unsentimental. She simply exists for the men, but doesn’t lose her humanity. One day near the end of the war a Japanese soldier comes in as normal, but instead of the usual he begins to cry because he knows he is being sent to his death. He gives her a picture of himself and asks her to give it to his parents in Osaka if she ever visits. This would be a cliché in other stories, but not here. It is done with such sensitivity and crucially has the effect of humanizing him; a counterpoint to the plight of the women.
It is honorable the story is told in this way, and as she bows at the end with utmost humility, Kim claps to the screen that shows the shifting, grainy images of the women who are now not forgotten but remembered due to this elegant piece of theatre.