Education About Asia: Online Archives

Osaka Story

Back to search results
Download PDF

NEW YORK, NY 10014

This documentary traces the return visit of a Japanese Korean filmmaker in his thirties to his family in Osaka after a three-year absence to study in the United Kingdom. It has been shown at the 1994 Margaret Mead Film Festival and 1995 New York Asian American Film Festival, and it won the Gold Hugo at the 1994 Chicago Film Festival.

a man stands near a woman sitting for a portrait.

By examining the intimate details of one family, we see the complexities of contemporary Japanese urban life that clearly contradict the image of a uniform, homogenous Japan. The video also gives a good “feel” for daily existence with excellent footage of urban life, streets, shops, homes, restaurants, and so forth. The success of Osaka Story is how it operates on multiple levels.

A central message, repeated throughout the story, is the father’s offer to buy the mother a burial plot. As the story unfolds, it becomes evident that although he may not divorce her in life, he intends to end the relationship and leave her alone in death. He probably will be buried in Korea with his “secret” second, Korean wife. Father and mother are both tragic figures. He is very hard working and has achieved financial success at great personal cost. To him life is full of pain, and pleasure only comes when he is asleep. She is committed to stay in a loveless marriage to maintain the family and business and will not change things because she only expects to live four or five more years. She holds onto appearances and the empty shell of a family that remains.

We see people caught up in a web of everyday obligations combined with a strong continuity that extends beyond one generation. For example, the father traces his roots back to Korea, proudly explains to Toichi, the filmmaker, that he is the twenty-eighth generation of the family, and enjoys playing with his grandson, the obvious heir to the family line. We are introduced to Toichi’s brother, Shori, who will take over the family’s moneylending and Pachinko business. He is the classic dutiful son. Now reunited with the family after leaving and taking a Korean wife, Shori carries on tradition by working at the family business, marrying, and having offspring. It is a tradition that Toichi, the oldest son, cannot fulfill. He remains torn inside because he feels he should.

The emotional cost of Japanese Korean marginality is a theme repeated in many ways. The father says he feels he is neither fully Korean nor Japanese. We learn of the problems faced by Toichi’s Japanese mother and Korean father when they married. We see it in Toichi’s siblings, and broken ties between father and children. The only hope offered by the story, in the sister optometrist and Toichi, is bittersweet. It is to escape family obligation and tradition by pursuing individual fulfillment in a professional career.

For instructional purposes, Osaka Story has strengths and weaknesses. It gives a close-up look at a side of Japanese life rarely seen, a gay man and his Korean Japanese family in which there are seven children and estrangement between the parents with a bigamist father. It explores the Korean minority in Japan and emotional strains of a family’s relationships. I would be hesitant to show this video unless the students were prepared with a background on Japanese society. Undergraduate students who are just beginning to learn about Japan may over-generalize from an atypical situation.

For students with an appropriate preparation, the video could be an excellent vehicle for initiating a class discussion about the Korean minority in Japan, mixed marriages, family obligations, gender roles, and differences between the generations.