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Koreans Use Misleading Photo to Promote Anti-Japanese Film







Since it was given World Heritage Status by UNESCO in 2015, “Battleship Island” (Hashima) in Nagasaki has been a focal point of the anti-Japanese movement in Korea, connecting it to the conscription of Korean laborers during the Pacific War.


It is getting attention once again in Korea. It was discovered that to drum up support for the release in the United States of a film set on Battleship Island, producers resorted to use a misleading photograph.


“The Island of Hell” flashed across an electronic billboard in Times Square at the beginning of July. It was in reference to Battleship Island. For 15 seconds at a time, an image of a man digging coal is shown, along with the caption “120 were killed.”



On July 26, however, the Korean newspaper Chuo Nippo (Korea Joongang Daily) reported that a Korean professor who was involved in the production of the film had admitted that the striking photograph was completely unrelated to Battleship Island.


The worker in the photograph was not a conscripted laborer, as the Koreans claimed, but a Japanese.  Moreover, the Japanese was not laboring at the undersea coal mine for which Battleship Island was the base, but at a completely different coal mine.


The Sankei Shinbun pointed out that the photograph “is from a mine in the Chikuho region of Fukuoka Prefecture and not from the Hashima mine.” It offered proof that the photograph used in the advertisement “dates from the mid-Meiji period and as such could not be a conscripted Korean.”


Seo Kyung Duk, a professor at Sungshin Women’s University who was involved in the production of both the film and the advertisement, admitted his error to the Chuo Nippo. He said: “I was unable to make a thorough verification and made an inadvertent mistake. It was only just this time that I learned that the worker in the photograph is a Japanese.”


Nonetheless, the film Battleship Island, directed by Ryoo Seung-wan, was released throughout Korea on July 26.



The film is set at the end of the Pacific War. The Japanese military plans to hide the existence of 400 conscripted Koreans, who have been forced to perform hard labor at the mine by sealing them in the mine and blowing it up. The Koreans come together to plot a group escape to save themselves.  Although the plot has no basis in historical fact, the director Ryoo has described it as “a work of fiction based on fact.”

In addition to scenes of conscripted workers dying in the tunnels of the mine, there are numerous scenes depicting the barbarous killing of both Japanese and Chinese. In addition, there are scenes of Korean women being forcibly sent to Japanese brothels, and the desecration of Rising Sun Flag. Overall the film is a work that encourages anti-Japanese jingoism on the part of Koreans.


At the end of the film a subtitle appears, noting that in 2015 Battleship Island was registered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization as one of the sites in Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution. It points out that, while the Japanese government has said it will take steps to commemorate the victims sometime this year, it has not done so. The political appeal made to viewers is quite strong.


In Korea, surviving conscripted laborers or their bereaved families have brought a series of court suits, seeking damages from Japanese companies. It is probable that the film will have an impact on public opinion with respect to the issue of conscripted laborers.



‘Work of Fiction’

In a press conference on the 26th of July, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshide Suga commented on the release on the same day in Korea of the film Battleship Island.



He observed: “The film is, as the director has said, a work of fiction by the director himself. I do not consider it a documentary film that reflects historical fact.”  


When questioned about the possibility of a Japanese government protest, he limited his reply to saying, “Commenting on each of the points in a film is not something the government ought to be doing.”


He also emphasized, “The issue of property and claims between Japan and Korea including the issue of conscripted labor was completely and finally settled by the Japan-Korea Claims Agreement [1965].”


The official saw no reason or necessity for Japan and Korea to take up the issue of conscripted labor.

[Translator’s note:  In English the full title of the claims agreement is Agreement between Japan and the Republic of Korea Concerning the Settlement of Problems in Regard to Property and Claims and Economic Cooperation. ]


In another press conference on the same day, Press Secretary Morio Maruyama said: “Japan and Korea are in the process of striving to develop a relation oriented to the future. The film cannot but have a chilling effect on those efforts.”




Takahiro Namura is the Sankei Shimbun Seoul bureau chief.



(Click here, here and here to read the original articles in Japanese.)


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  1. Michael Yon

    August 17, 2017 at 2:54 pm

    More creepiness coming out of Korea. They started putting their prostitute statues on the front of busses. Really creepy. I have seen them dancing for this statutes, holding the statue's hand. Singing to it. Hold or placing umbrellas for it, bringing it food and beverage. Total freak show.

  2. FronTierFrank

    August 17, 2017 at 2:22 pm

    This director Ryoo doesn't seem to understand the importance of doing adequate research on history before shooting this type of film, even if his objective is to promote propaganda in addition to earning lots of profit. There's no crime in trying to make money, but the extent of his engaging in revisionist history, so much so that the 'courageous' actions of the Korean men in the grand finale, the ‘Escape from Battleship Island,’ essentially results in the repudiation of what the Comfort Women Redress Movement has been professing to the international community for almost 30 years - that the Korean men were utterly powerless as the Japanese military systematically carried off their women in order to satiate the sexual needs of their soldiers.

    Quite simply, the battle scene against the Japanese is an attestation of what very well would have happened had Japan truly engaged in atrocities such as forcing slave labor unto the Korean men or forcibly abducting (or conscripting) their women for prostitution. If there is still any doubt that Koreans did not have the courage to fight back when their daughters, nieces, and grandchildren were being snatched away, look no further than the U.S. military's Composite Report on Three Korean Navy Civilians, List No. 78, Dated 28 Mar 45, RE “Special Questions on Koreans”: http://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20160610/p2a/00m/0na/015000c
    Under Item 18, it states, “All Korean prostitutes that POWs have seen in the Pacific were volunteers or had been sold by their parents into prostitution. This is proper in the Korean way of thinking but direct conscription of women by the Japanese would be an outrage that the old and young would not tolerate. Men would rise up in a rage, killing Japanese no matter what consequences they might suffer.”

    According to Mr. Ryoo, Battleship Island is ‘a work of fiction based on fact.’ In my opinion, the violent and decisive finale of the film depicts a realistic insurrection by the Korean people even though the premise was based on pure fiction.

  3. U

    August 14, 2017 at 1:57 pm

    Before viewing Battleship Island, I thought it was made with the agenda to spread hatred towards Japan. However, as I watched it, the film itself portrayed the Korean people in a negative light, if not outright foolish and absurd.
    Given all the hardships endured during World War II, it is only natural to imagine that Korean laborers were doing their best to support one another. However, the film actually showed the opposite:  Koreans beating Koreans, Koreans deceiving Koreans, Koreans killing Koreans, and so on. The Japanese were of course the ultimate villains, but some Koreans were acting like their henchmen, giving the viewer the perception that the treatment of their own people were unbelievably cruel. What I also noticed was that only a handful of Koreans were fluent in Japanese and had Japanese names, which is inconsistent with South Korea's ordinary claims that they were forbidden from speaking the Korean language, forced to speak Japanese, and required to adopt Japanese names. In the film, Koreans were speaking Korean openly, yet the Japanese didn't seem to bother at all - instead, employers hired interpreters for those who didn't understand Japanese!
    This film has been advertised as having been created based on true events, and it is subtitled as such at the beginning of the film. The fictional events, the forced slave labor arrangement, major accidents inside the coal mines, bombing raids of the island by the American forces, the plan by the Japanese to blow up the island to cover up their ‘crimes,’ and the heroic escape from the island as the Koreans engage in a deadly shootout against the Japanese, etc., all involve fictional characters created for this film. Yet, there are elements of truth conflated with fiction, and this is one example: comfort women who arrive at the island had been deceived and sent to work in China by a Korean broker/recruiter. In other words, historical truth and fictitious accounts are blended together, resulting in a fusion of Korean nationalism and idealism on the one hand and reality based on historical truth on the other – in essence, Battleship Island is full of untruths with a few sprinkles of truth. One cannot help but wonder that perhaps this precisely mirrors the mentality of so many Koreans today, having a confused mental state consumed with a pathological hatred toward Japan that serves as a powerful stimulus to manifest their perverse national pride.

  4. Aryeh Goldman

    August 5, 2017 at 5:10 pm

    What do you get when you start with the dripping racism of Birth of a Nation, sprinkle in the blind nationalism of Triumph of the Will, and stir in genrously the historical inacuracies of U-571? The answer: Battleship Island.

    I honestly felt "icky" after enduring this film. The most notalbe difference between a historical fiction film and a blatant piece of fascist propoganda is the lack of a sympathetic "other". Every good story teller knows you must have at least one sympathetic character from the "other side". Otherwise you are engaging in a kind of racist monologue. Even the Story of Esther has good and bad Persians. They are not all bad. Shindler's List had Oskar Schindler.

    Ryoo Seung Won went "full Nazi" in completely dehumanizing all aspects of the Japanese in this film. When the Japanese schoolgirl is raped and killed in an attempt to frame a rival press gang leader, there is not a moment of sympathy for her. Think about that for a moment. A young teen girl is brutally raped and killed, and the lens portrays it wihtout sympathy. Later, in a moment to perhaps redeem the scene, her body is moved in front of the assembly area and her parents are in the background. This is used only as a prop to show that the Korean laborers suffered more, and to actually attempt to act as a "shaming" of the grieving parents. Unbelievably conveying the message both of "she deserved to be raped and murdered" and "how dare you grieve when the workers are suffering so much." It was a stomach churning moment, and one that sealed the fate of this horrendously racist film.

    There are so many other moments, but recalling all of them would reopen the festering sore that is the memory of this new hate film. When the director can't even be bothered to leave the small Japanese girl, raped and murdered, with a small shred of humanity and draw some sympathy from the audience, and chooses instead to use her rape and murder as a prop to shame grieving parents simply because of race. Then you know the writer /director has truly "jumped the shark" and now dwells squarely in the dark corner of humanity reserved for those that live to hate.

    Hopefully one day, that dark corner will be no more. But with more films like Battleship Island, it appears hate is fashionable again in Asia.

  5. Mindy Kotler

    August 2, 2017 at 11:17 am

    I believe there are a number of misleading translator errors in this piece. First, this article does not show the photo in question, only the movie poster of the actors. The original Sankei article about the photo says the mine in question is a Kaijima Corporation (still exists and has extensive operations in the US) owned coalmine in Kurate-gun, Miyata-machi, Fukuoka-ken. This mine was not established until 1883. Thus, the photo is unlikely to be mid-Meiji (1877-89). It is more likely, to be in the Taisho era (1912-26). This was a time of great growth of the coal industry and of an influx of Korean labor. It is interesting to note that until the late-1920s and the enactment of a number of safety laws, one-third of all Japanese coal miners were women. Further, in the early development of Meiji mining, the majority of miners were convict labor. The State encouraged this practice and it continued until cheap Chinese and Korean labor was available. According to the book “Women Miners in Developing Countries: Pit Women and Others,” from 1928-1943 the Kaijima mine employed 1,388 Korean miners. During the war years, the majority of miners were Allied POW slave laborers. At this Kaijima mine, known as Fukuoka #9B POW Camp, there were nearly 800 POWs from the US, Canada, UK, Australia, and the Netherlands. There were 47 POW deaths.

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