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'Korean Culture' According to Foreigners <1> - Mr. Sanae (Japan)

2004/03/15 Source

Korean cultural products such as TV series, movies, music and games are entering market abroad one by one. Korean Wave, popularity of Korean popular culture, which started in China and Southeast Asia, is continued in Japan, and Korea has become a contents exporter. We should be proud of our cultural contents, even though their reach is somewhat concentrated within Asian markets.

What do foreigners think about Korean popular culture? CT features this special series to first-handedly understand their perspective on Korean culture; "Korean Culture According to Foreigners".

Writings by those who have observed Korean popular culture with prolonged interest will be serially published. The first of this series will be Mr. Hoshio Sanae from Japan. (CT News Editorial Team)
The first Korean movie that I encountered with was "Shiri". It grasped significant number of viewers in Japan. Even though I did not visit the theatre conscious of the fact that it was a Korean movie, I couldn't help being surprised by it. It was a work impossible from Japanese movie industry.

Korean Movies that Resemble Hollywood Blockbusters

Many movies from Asian countries including Hong Kong are introduced to Japanese viewers. Most of them fall into two categories; either the second-grade or artistic movies.

Surprisingly, Shiri is very different from other Asian movies. It is very entertaining, yet features a theme of current social issues appealing to broad viewer groups. It reminded me of Hollywood blockbuster movies.

A man and a woman represent South and North Koreas separated in the middle. The heroine of the movie is isolated from her past after plastic surgery and long estrangement from her home. The movie is filled with symbolisms like these, drawing the viewers deeply into the story. The social problem of separation brings tragedy to the life of two lovers, with the reconciliation at the verge of world extinction. This storyline reminded me of Hollywood movie "Armageddon", with a pinch of originality.

I watched JSA after Shiri, and also was quite impressed by its quality. There are foreshadowing embedded in the well-structured storyline that appeals to viewers, as well as relevance with the political status of the country. This movie of a young director increased my attention to Korean movies, and the author has come across several more of Korean cultural products since then.

Surprised by Wide Range of Diverse Movies

The foremost surprising factor of Korean movies is the diverse and wide variety of thematic and material scope of the industry. One of my favorite movies is titled "Memory of Murder".

The copy of the movie I was able to take hold of did not have Japanese subtitle which resulted in complete ignorance to conversations taken place within the movie, yet I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Even though lines in movies are very important, the image production of "Memories of Murder" itself is filled with intensity that draws the viewers deep into the screen. I plan to watch it again when it enters the Japanese market, because I would like to revisit scenes of important clues that I couldn't understand.

Interests in Korean movies have been increasing in Japan. Movie section of a magazine "always" includes the trend of Korean movies. Fashion magazines targeting female readers are frequented by movie reviews that praise high-quality Korean movies of diverse genres.

Increasing Interest in Korean Movies and TV Series Lead to Learning Korean

As mentioned earlier, interests in Korean movies and TV series are increasing. I began to learn Korean to find more out about Korean movies. In my Korean class, there are many women who are learning Korean for the same reason, and we talk a lot about Korean TV series and movies. This year's hottest topic is a TV series "Winter Sonata".

The reviews that praised the series for "beautiful lines uncommon in modern Japan", "story of pure love", and "features that awakens the nostalgia about Japan in olden days" did not interest me much.
But, once I came across the series, I too fell deep into it.

Some criticize the series for portraying unrealistically pure and unconditional love, but I would like to say the otherwise. The series is based on major issues in the world of reality. The world in TV series is an "artificial world filled with fictional invention", which allows the artists to eliminate discrepancies in so-called reality to concentrate on specific ideals.

Unusual Material, Unique Production

After that, I came across English-subtitled TV Series such as "Autumn in my Heart" and "Summer Scent", which, too, confirmed my love for Korean cultural products. One interesting fact about these TV series is that they all evolve around the motive of traditional ghost stories.

Eun-seo from Autumn Fairy Tale is a kid once accidentally switched with another, who is abandoned by his family. Winter Sonata's Jun-sang is a matter fact a dead person. After a few year passes, people from the past find these two characters, but only in the form of love-filled imagination or piece of paper. The last scene of Autumn Fairy Tale gave me chills of horror instead of tears of emotional enlightenment. It reminded me stories of a man possessed by a ghost being led to the afterlife from my childhood.

Works of the director Yoon Seok-ho commonly feature a modern theme of changing places by main characters. My favorite work of director Yoon is "Winter Sonata". It is a masterpiece filled with mysterious twists and numerous misconceptions following one another within a well-structured storyline.

"Winter Sonata" is a traditional TV series with a hint of exoticness. It experiments different genres of TV series adopted into traditional soap opera moving away from a typical experimental movie. I would like to go far calling it an "avant guarde" piece.

This unique production measures can be only possible with a large TV series market as in Korea with a high demand for high-quality works. Hot-blooded passion of both the producers and the viewers, It is a must for successful popular culture. I anticipate the continuation of this passion from Korean movie and TV series industries.

Hoshio Sanae (ほしおさなえ)

Mr. Hoshio is a poet and a mystery novelist. His novel「Indian Strawberries - Sanatorium」made it to the finalist of Ayokawa Tetzya Award in 2002, and it was published by Tokyo Sogen Company last year. He has been active as a poet under a penname of "Ohoshita Sanae" since before he became a mystery novelist.

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