Newly uncovered footage of seven “comfort women” provides video evidence of the Japanese Army’s sexual enslavement of hundreds of thousands of women from Asian countries during World War II.
The black-and-white footage shot in 1944 by a US Army private in Southwest China’s Yunnan province shows seven women standing outside a brick house. They were barefoot and looked nervous.
After a two-year search through US archives, researchers from Seoul University uncovered the video at the US National Archives and Records Administration. The women were filmed after they were liberated by US-China Allied Forces as the troops reclaimed Songshan, in Yunnan, from the Japanese.
The researchers identified the women as Korean by matching their clothes and facial appearances with existing historical photos – a set of photos taken by a private of the US Army Signal Corps’ 164th Photographic Unit and uncovered in 2000.
“The film clearly shows the fear and anxiety on the women’s faces and body movements. As a woman, I can clearly identify with these women as they stood barefoot so helpless and scared,” said Lillian Sing, co-chair of the San Francisco-based Comfort Women Justice Coalition.
Calling the footage “the most powerful and persuasive evidence”, Sing, a retiredSuperior Court judge in San Francisco, said, “In a court of law, this film is considered as the best evidence and a smoking gun showing what happened in 1944.”
Before the video clip surfaced, the only visual images had been still photographs and accounts from survivors.
“This is vivid, moving, proactive, and almost alive film, and what it showed cannot be denied,” said Sing.
The discovery of the footage is significant as it refutes convincingly Japan’s claim that there is no evidence of “comfort women”, said Peipei Qiu, professor of Chinese and Japanese at Vassar College and author of the award-winning Chinese Comfort Women: Testimonies from Imperial Japan’s Sex Slaves.
“This footage tied in with wartime records. The area of Tengchong, Songshan and Longling in Yunnan province was an important fortress on the vital wartime supply line in China,” said Qiu. Her book also records this history.
According to the West Yunnan NGO Research Association for the Unresolved Issues of the Anti-Japanese War, the Imperial Japanese Army occupied Longling County in 1942, and within two weeks set up a military comfort station there.
Soldiers often fought about who got to use the station, so the Japanese Army transported about 100 more “comfort women” from Taiwan and set up two other comfort stations at a temple and a church, said Qiu.
The Japanese solders also raped the captured local women and then detained them, setting up more comfort stations. Besides local women, local residents also saw Japanese and Korean women confined in the comfort stations.
“What happened to the ‘comfort women’ in this station when the Japanese forces withdrew remains unknown, although there have been reports that, in nearby Lameng Township and Tengchong County, Japanese troops forced Korean ‘comfort women’ to take mercuric chloride, while they shot and killed Chinese comfort women,” Qiu said.
While applauding the discovery of the footage, Sing questioned why the film sat in the US National Archives and Records Administration for so many years.
“We only have 22 ‘comfort women’ alive in China and 37 alive in South Korea. Justice cannot be delayed any longer,” said Sing.