Voices of the Silenced, Programme Note

Born in the Miyagi Prefecture, Japan, Park Soo-nam is a second-generation Korean-Japanese. She first gained fame as a bestselling author with her book Crime, Death and Love (1963), which comprises two collections of correspondence between herself and Lee Jin-woo, a Korean-Japanese death row inmate who allegedly murdered two Komatsugawa High School girls in 1958an incident most known internationally through Ōshima Nagisa’s film Death by Hanging 絞死刑 (1968). 

In 1985, she shifted from writing to filmmaking with her debut as a documentary filmmaker on The Other Hiroshima. This was followed by Korean A-bomb Victims Tell Their Story, Song of Ariran – Voices from Okinawa (1991), Nuchigafu – Life is a Treasure “Gyokusai” Stories in the Battle of Okinawa (2012), and The Silence (2017). Park Maeui scavenges durations of silence from 50 hours of footage captured by her mother over her 30-year long filmmaking career; a personal film archive thus became an invaluable reservoir of historical testimonies.

“I thought video was the only way to capture their trembling words and bodies, as language couldn’t convey such profound silence (Voices of the Silenced, 2023, 46:47).”

This is what Park Soo-nam told the camera when she was asked why she first started making films—it was to capture the silence that evaded the pen. The register of non-utterance, including the countenance, the gesture, and the wordless flow of unfilled time conveys the lived experiences that cannot be reduced to speech—especially for those whose mother tongue is stripped away from them. Language becomes a weapon of subjugation, communication turns into a battlefield, and to speak is to be complicit in the reenactment of violence. Trinh T. Minh-ha effectively underscores the language of silence in her writings about voyages across continents and languages:

“In other words, silence not as opposed to language, but as a choice not to verbalise, a will not to say, a necessary interval in an interaction—in brief, as a means of communication of its own (elsewhere, within here, 2011).”

We listen to the voices of the silenced.

Eleanor Lu, programmer