What at first appears to be a simple child disappearance ends up being an international conspiracy

Abduction: The Megumi Yokata Story

on August 31, 2006 by Ray Greene
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In this moving documentary about a very bizarre political tragedy, every parent's nightmare becomes real and then surreal. In 1977, a Japanese schoolgirl named Megumi Yokata disappeared while on her way home from school. She was presumed either dead or a runaway, but her parents kept searching for her. Then things got truly weird.

Rumors began circulating of a bizarre plot by the neo-Stalinists of Japan's regional neighbor North Korea. The plan: to infiltrate Japanese society by kidnapping Japanese citizens and using them to teach North Korean agents the elaborate rituals of Japanese life. As evidence that this unlikely scenario was real mounted, Megumi's parents had a hunch that turned out to be true: that their daughter was among the politically disappeared. The Yokatas then became spokespersons in a ceaseless campaign for the return of the abductees.

Co-directors Chris Sheridan and Patty Kim got funding from the BBC for their feature, and it shows in their sometimes stodgy technique, which alternates too frequently in the early going between talking heads and endless shots of empty skies and vacant oceans used to compress interviews. But as Megumi's parents gradually transform themselves by a sheer effort of will from simple middle-class people into the crusading heads of a populist revolt, Abduction gains momentum and dramatic force.

Plot twists that would be rejected as implausible in a Hollywood feature abound, while portraits of other abductee families range from the tragic (a woman so destroyed by the loss of her son that she spends 27 years as a weeping invalid and dies just before he is set free) to the exhilarating (the brother of an abducted woman who transitions from a lowly fish market auctioneer to a candidate for parliamentary election in the name of reclaiming his lost family member).

The core story remains Megumi's, and it's a tragedy of uncertain resolutions and unending parental grief. Eschewing the geopolitical for the personal, Sheridan and Kim manage to tell a sweeping Cold War saga that is at its most undeniably powerful when it is focused tightly on the tracks of two parents' tears. Directed by Chris Sheridan and Patty Kim. Written by Patty Kim. Produced by Chris Sheridan, Patty Kim and Jane Campion. No distributor set. Documentary. Japanese- and Korean-language; subtitled. Not rated. Running time: 85 min.

Tags: documentary, political, tragedy, disappearance, teen, Chris Sheridan, Patty Kim, family drama, Jane Campion
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