Mark Schilling schill
Sun Apr 8 08:47:03 EDT 2001

David White asked for a review of Miyabi no Kaikyo. Here's mine from my book
Contemporary Japanese Film.

Mark Schilling

Mitabi no Kaikyo (Three Trips Across the Strait) (12/5/95)

Produced by "Mitabi no Kaikyo" Production Commitee; screenplay by Seijiro
Koyama, Masato Kato; directed by Seijiro Koyama. With: Mikuni Rentaro, Lee
Jong Ho, Toshiyuki Nagashima, Daisuke Ryu, Yoko Minamino. Running time: 123

Why the flurry of movies with Asian locales and heroes? This year we have
seen the release of Kei Kumai's *Fukai Kawa,** with its Japanese tourists
discovering eternal verities in India, Kazuki Omori's *Kinkyu Yobidashi:
Emergency Call,** with its Japanese doctor serving the poor of Manila's
Smoky Mountain slum, and Hiromichi Horikawa's *Asian Blue,** with its Korean
slave workers struggling to survive in wartime Japan.
      Each of these films has its own reason for being, but collectively
they  suggest a trend. After decades of equating "foreign" with "the West"
and practicing, with a few notable exceptions, selective historical amnesia,
the Japanese film industry is coming to collective grips with Japan's
Asianness and its troubled history in Asia.
       Seijiro Koyama's *Mitabi no Kaikyo** (Three Trips Across the Strait)
is the latest example of this trend. Based a novel of the same title by
Hosei Hahakigi, the film resembles *Asian Blue** in theme and approach.
Once again a Japanese filmmaker explicitly takes the side of his Korean
characters and forthrightly dramatizes Japanese wartime atrocities. Even the
structure of the film, with its framing device of an old Korean man
searching for his past in present-day Japan, is similar.
      But Koyama, a veteran director known for his sentimental treatment of
historical subjects (*Toki No Rakujitsu,** *Gekka no Natsu,** *Himeyuri no
To**), turns his film, midway through, into a melodrama of star-crossed love
and, in the modern story, justice triumphant. Though this shift may be
faithful to the novel's rambling narrative, it dissipates much of the impact
*Mitabi** has been so carefully building in its first hour.
      Even so, compared with the bathos of the usual Koyama product, the
first half of *Mitabi** is restrained and effective. Also, Koyama strives
hard to accurately present not only the crimes but contradictions of the
era, during which Korean oppressed Korean, and the closest country to Japan
became the most distant, culturally and politically. As evidence that Koyama
and co-scriptwriter Masato Kato achieved the historical perspective that
seems so elusive to Japanese politicians, the *Mitabi** crew was allowed to
shoot on location in Korea -- a rare concession from a government that still
bans the theatrical screening of Japanese films.
     *Mitabi** begins with the modern story. Han Shigun (Mikuni Rentaro), a
Pusan businessman, accepts an invitation from an old wartime comrade to
return to Japan after a 50-year absence. After crossing the strait to
Kyushu, he goes to the town where he worked in the mines, one of the
thousands of forced laborers brought to Japan during the war. A visit to an
abandoned Korean cemetery near the mines revives memories -- and a
long-buried desire to reconnect with his past.
       Those memories, as we see in extended flashbacks, were hardly
pleasant. To fuel the Japanese war machine, the young Han (Lee Jong Ho) and
his Korean comrades are forced to work impossible hours in dangerous
conditions and, when they falter, are beaten mercilessly by their
supervisors, some of whom are Japanized Koreans.
      Finally, the miners, led by the fearless Kim Dong In (Toshiyuki
Nagashima), rebel and present a list of demands to the mine boss, the
cool-headed, cold-blooded Yamamoto (Daisuke Ryu). Yamamoto agrees to the
demands without a struggle but soon after, Kim is found hanged in the
dormitory -- with his private parts missing.
      Convinced that Yamamoto was responsible for the murder and mutilation
of a man he respected, Han decides to run away. During his escape, he kills
a supervisor, but finds help and a new life in a nearby village. There he
meets Chizu (Yoko Minamino), a beautiful  Japanese widow -- and *Mitabi**
becomes a different movie that is relentlessly heart-rending, tiresomely
predictable. Do Han and Chizu fall in love and marry? Do they encounter
opposition from Han family when he takes her back home after the war? Does
she finally leave, with her infant son, never to return? I didn't have to
puzzle over the answers, but I did find myself admiring Minamino. Though
this former idol has appeared in some dreadful schlock (*Kantsubaki,**
*Watashi o Daite Soshite Kisu Shite**), her performance as the widow is
appropriately simple and dignified.
    Meanwhile, in the present, Han meets his long-lost son and prepares for
a final showdown with Yamamoto, who has just been elected mayor on a promise
to obliterates all traces of the now-abandoned mines and -- his own,
unspoken agenda -- the graves of the Koreans, whose spirits still haunt him.
We can also guess how the final, titantic battle between the two old enemies
will end -- and why Han will never make his fourth trip across that fateful

----- Original Message -----
From: "David White" <davenkaz at>
To: "kinejapan" <kinejapan at>
Sent: Sunday, April 08, 2001 5:49 PM
Subject: Mitabi

> Hello, I'm looking for reviews/info about a film called 'Mitabi no Kaikyo'
> (Three trips across the strait)(produced 1996) and am difficulty finding
> anything on the internet.  Does anyone know of this film or its director,
> Kamiyama Seijiro?
> thanks.
> David White

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