Our School (2006) is a Korean documentary, by filmmaker Kim Myung Joon, about the life of third generation Koreans in Japan and the struggles the students of a high school go through to
gain cultural identity in a foreign land.
Title: Our School
Other Titles: (우리 학교 (Woo-ri Hak-kyo))
Director: Kim Myung Joon
Cast: Comprised of a number of high school students and teachers
Running Time: 2hrs 11mins
The first movie I will be reviewing is actually a documentary called “Our School”, by Korean filmmaker Kim Myung Joon, which was voted the best Korean independent film of 2007. When I heard about Our School and how it followed the lives of some students and teachers I was a bit apprehensive, thinking at first that it will be fairly simple and monotonous (i.e. going from classes to classes, how students spend their time and interact with others, daily life, etc).
However I kept hearing about how the documentary is extremely moving focusing on the importance of culture and nationalism on third generation Koreans living in Japan, a foreign land, so I decided I would give it a chance. Although a fair amount of the documentary is focused on the daily lives of the students, the viewer is shown the impact the school has had on their lives in terms of discovering their cultural identity as well as the students pride and respect for their culture.
Director Kim Myung Joon spent approximately three and a half years exploring the lives of Korean students and teachers in a high school in Hokkaido (in Japan) setup by Korean immigrants back in 1945 in order to protect and preserve their culture and traditions etc. This documentary also serves as closure to his late wife Jo Eun Ryeong’s unfinished documentary “Hanareul Weehye”. The main reoccurring themes are that of the daily lives of the students and teachers, and more importantly the students’ search for their cultural identity. The latter is arguably a more interesting theme because depicted is not only the struggle of the students to find out who they are and the pride that many of the individuals have in their culture, but also a reality of a country and its people that has mostly been portrayed negatively by the media.
This documentary takes place at a Korean high school in Hokkaido, northern Japan, following a number of the third generation Korean students living in Japan as well as teachers in their daily lives and events encountered. The main purpose of the school is to give the Korean children an education that also introduces Korean cultural and nationality to the students in order for them to find their true identity as Koreans. We soon find out about problems that the school is faced with as well as the staff’s attempts at resolutions.
As we progress we become attached to the students and begin to feel their genuine happiness and joy as well as their pain, as we are exposed to their trails and tribulations to which many of us can relate to in one way or another. We begin to see the importance of cultural identity to them and the amount of effort that they exert in order to achieve their goals. A final year school trip is scheduled for the students to visit North Korea, which many students see as a beneficial opportunity to gain a greater insight into Korean history, culture, etc, and also gain a new perspective on life, which will in turn have an impact on their understanding of what it means to be Korean. We get to see footage of North Korea, a completely different view of the country when compared to how it is portrayed in today’s media. Because the director was not allowed to enter North Korea, we get to see through the eyes of the students. The director gave a camera to the students to document their trip so that we can get an idea of what the students felt and how the experience had an impact on them.
This is pretty much the high point of the documentary, and after viewing the experience the students had in North Korea we come back to reality, as they return to Japan, to see what Japan, which in this case is also what pretty much the whole world, sees North Korea as. This contrast gives us an idea of how difficult it is, not just for the students and teachers but also for other North Koreans in Japan, to be who they are in a country where a number of its people do not what them to belong to.
I tried not to give away too much away, so there are a number of subjects I did not mention that do add to the effectiveness of the documentary. The insight of the education system is interesting, however the daily school routine was at some points too long, which began to lose a bit of my attention. However more into the second half of the movie, we are presented with thought provoking elements that call upon our own personal views to be reviewed. We also get to witness a side of North Korea nothing like what many perceive it to be. Although the documentary is over two hours, with, at times, tedious aspects, I can highly recommend it to anyone to watch.
I give it an 8/10.
(The pictures I used are taken from the Korean Film Council website)
You can buy Our School from Yes Asia.