Government-sponsored Propaganda Anime: Megumi
Last month I discussed the Gate anime, a series which many commentators on both sides of the Pacific have described as propaganda. If we regard propaganda as “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view”, then one could certainly apply this descriptor to Gate, along with many other works of media. However, I have found no evidence so far to support Matthew Brummer’s claim in The Diplomat Magazine that the Gate anime was “produced, designed, and funded in coordination with the JSDF”. It seems more likely that the JSDF jumped onto the Gate bandwagon after it became popular.
Today, I’d like to discuss a work of propaganda that actually was funded by an arm of the Japanese government. Megumi is a 25-minute documentary anime about the abduction of a Japanese schoolgirl by the North Korean government. It can be watched for free in multiple languages on the official website of the Government of Japan’s Headquarters for the Abduction Issue.
Here’s a video of the English dub:
The background behind the video goes like this: In the 1970s, North Korea abducted at least seventeen Japanese citizens. These Japanese citizens were made to teach the Japanese language to North Korean spies, who would then go on to perform espionage work in Japan and spread propaganda. For many years, North Korea denied that this was happening, but in 2002, some twenty four years after the fact, they finally admitted it. At that time, only five of the victims were returned to Japan. The rest had either died or their whereabouts are unknown.
This incident caused huge controversy in Japan at the time. Diplomatic relations between Japan and North Korea completely broke down and to this day are still not normalised. The Japanese government argues that the North Korean regime has not yet fully accounted for all the abductees, while the North Korean regime insists that the Japanese government is simply using this incident as an excuse to maintain economic sanctions.
The Megumi anime tells the story of Megumi Yokota, who was thirteen years old at the time of her abduction. Megumi’s story is the most iconic of all the abductees, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve heard of it. The anime was based off a manga of the same name (you can read a short excerpt here) and was released on March 31 2008, about eight years ago to this day. This was around the time the Japanese and North Korean governments were having talks about normalising their relations, but these talks fell through.
Still, there is some closure to this grisly tale that is not told in the anime. In 2014, Megumi’s parents were allowed to meet Megumi’s daughter, who was born in North Korea. But as for the father of Megumi’s daughter, a South Korean abductee known as Kim Young-nam, his whereabouts are unknown.
As an anime, Megumi is rather flat and uninspiring, but as propaganda it’s quite effective. The anime is far from the best telling of the Megumi story, but the tale is so inherently haunting and powerful that it’s hard not to be moved. The use of real photographs serves as a stark reminder that while this story may be animated, it is telling a true story. It shocks the viewer into confronting the reality of the situation in a way that a live action documentary would not achieve.
(That said, there are a bunch of live action documentaries focusing on this story, including an award-winning American documentary called Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story.)
I first stumbled across the Megumi anime while researching the lives of ethnic Koreans living in Japan. And my take on it is this: there is absolutely zero doubt that North Korea is run by shitlords. But the Japanese media’s myopic focus on the abductions, and particularly the Japanese abductees, took attention away from the 500+ South Korean victims, as well as the victims of hate crimes against the ethnic Korean population living in Japan.
So even though I take no issue with the message itself, there is still much to be critical of when it comes to propaganda and one-sided discourse.