Starring: Mayuko Fukada, Nana Katase, Tôru Kazama
Director: Manami Wakabayashi
Running Time: 96 mins
Reunion – Megumi Yokota’s Wish is a Japanese film about the true story of a 13 year old girl who was abducted off the East Coast of Japan by North Korean agents in 1977.
Being a TV movie, I really wasn’t expecting much from this film, but I have to say that Reunion is an amazing surprise. It’s by no means an intense thriller, but it’s incredibly informative about a very sad true story, and goes about telling it in as sensitive and calm a way as possible, rather than giving into making grander political statements that could have derailed its impressive emotional power.
The one thing that you may wonder about this film is, given the secrecy of North Korea, how on earth the events of young Megumi’s kidnapping and subsequent life in captivity there can be known. Fortunately, that’s well explained in the film, and although there are clearly a few moments of artistic license to fill in unknowable gaps, the story is very convincing from start to finish, integral to making the film as informative as possible.
And that’s one of the things that I really liked about this movie. On the one hand, it’s a poignant and emotional drama that’s investing right the way through, but on the other, it doesn’t mind being very plain and factual when it comes to some of the most important events of the story.
Beginning and ending with a presenter giving a slightly more political background and aftermath, whilst also featuring a narrator and numerous documentary-style explanation sequences throughout, there are parts of this movie that feel miles away from what’s normally expected in a narrative drama. However, rather amazingly, they don’t have any sort of impact on the flow or atmosphere of the film as a whole, allowing the pure factual side of the story to work well in tandem with the emotional drama.
When it comes to the more emotional side of the story, it’s difficult not to be completely caught up in the devastating events. The kidnapping of innocent Japanese citizens by North Korea is a very real (albeit very rare) problem, but it’s one that a lot of people don’t know so much about.
Reunion manages to bring the issue to light brilliantly by focusing sharply on one young girl and her strength in the face of an unimaginable situation. The character of Megumi that is developed throughout the film is both fascinating and wonderfully likable, and thanks to the excellent performances from Mayuko Fukada and Nana Katase who portray Megumi at a young and older age, it’s very easy to feel for her in the middle of this crisis.
Now, normally, the reason that TV movies don’t shine strongly above big theatrical releases isn’t just down to their limited releases. They’re often far less refined due to smaller budgets, with lower production quality, poorer acting and occasionally ridiculous melodrama.
But that’s the final thing that surprised me about Reunion. It’s a wonderfully calm and sensitive film, and as sad and even devastating as the story at play is, it never strays into melodramatic territory, always bringing even more powerful emotions through the grief of Megumi’s parents, and the slow struggle against the North Korean indoctrination process that Megumi undergoes over many years.
What’s more is that the production quality, directing and acting is all a lot better than you’d expect. Again, keeping things very simple, the film does a great job at portraying a community of Japanese in North Korea, creating a convincing setting of both oppression as well as daily North Korean life. The production value is hugely effective as a result, and with more subdued and emotionally tender performances, this film is far better than the TV movie stereotype.
Overall, I was very impressed with Reunion – Megumi Yokota’s Wish. Although it’s not a truly incredible drama, it’s moving and poignant throughout thanks to a calm and well-told story that balances fascinating and informative history with effective emotional drama, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.7.