Annyong Kimchee

Original title
Annyon Kimuchi
Japanese title
  • あんにょんキムチ
Running time
52 minutes
28 September 2011
Annyong Kimchee Annyong Kimchee


Japan and Korea have had a troubled relationship over the centuries, and discrimination against Korean residents in Japan has been legendary. But how important is the issue of race to a younger generation born and raised in the country? Tetsuaki Matsue, a third-generation zainichi attempts to get to grips with the issue of his own national identity in this autobiographical video documentary made as the then 21-year-old director's graduation project from the Japan Academy of the Moving Image.

Annyong Kimchee begins with Matsue confessing to a group of assembled friends "I'm not really Japanese, I'm Korean" before an evening session in a Karaoke box. To his surprise, none of them seem particularly fazed or concerned by the revelation. To Matsue, however, this newly awakened awareness of his roots seems to be causing some degree of angst. The fruits of a Korean bloodline, yet unable to speak the language of his ancestors due to having been raised in the country of the "chokpari" (a derogatory term Koreans use for the Japanese), any feeling of latent Korean-ness is further tempered by an innate revulsion for that spicy staple of the Korean diet, kimchee.

After a brief backtrack through history detailing the Japanese colonisation of Korea from 1910 to 1945 where Koreans were forced to assume Japanese names and work in Japan, for the bulk of the film he adopts the format of an intimate family portrait as the assorted clan of parents, aunts, uncles, and grandmother are interviewed about the first family member to come over to Japan, Tetsuaki's now deceased grandfather Yukichi Matsue (born Yu Chon-sik). It is clear from this personal history that times have changed a great deal in the decades following Yukichi's arrival not speaking a word of the language. As he strove to completely assimilate into Japanese society, amazingly he soon managed to successfully pass himself off as more Japanese than most Japanese, and a valuable pillar of the local community. Yet to his dying day, he was forced to carry the alien registration card.

After the young Tetsuaki returns from a trip to the village of his grandfather's birth in Korea, camera in hand, his various family members are quizzed as to which country they feel they most belong. Sister Masako, who narrates the bulk of the piece, is in no doubt about where she feels most comfortable, as she addresses the camera clutching a large fluffy Hello Kitty stuffed toy. Other members of the family don't seem quite so sure.

Matsue's likeable and elucidating investigation of his cultural roots formed the beginning of a professional filmmaking career. It was after shooting Summer Vacation with Naomi Kawase (2002nen no Natsuyasumi - Dokyumento Sharasoju), a "making-of" document of Kawase's film Shara, that Matsue became one of a number of young filmmakers approached by Kunihiko Tomioka of the Planet Studyo +1 cinema in Osaka to take part in the Eyes of Cineastes series. Their remit was to go out and "film documentaries of themselves and their surroundings".

Billing itself as "3 nights and 4 days with curry and women in Tokyo", Matsue's piece Every Japanese Woman Makes Her Own Curry (Kareraisu no Onnatachi) was prompted when construction work next door forced him from his apartment for a couple of days and in need of somewhere to stay. He hit upon the ingenious idea of phoning several young female acquaintances and inviting himself round to film them cook dinner for him. The one proviso is that each cooks curry rice, which, since it was the only dish that his first girlfriend could muster, is Matsue's favourite dish.

Matsue's subjects are Eri, (age 27), a pink actress who appeared in Takahisa Zeze's Tokyo X Erotica and who introduces Matsue to the cosmopolitan delights of the zucchini; Kayako (27), who forgets to put the carrots in her one; and finally his current sweetheart Mika (29), whose attempt at pepping up the project with a Thai green curry mix bought from Muji prove too hot for the man whose tastes in curry are like his films - mild and sweet.

Matsue has said that his twin interests in movies are documentary and hardcore Adult Video. The similarities between the two genres - the recording of real, non-simulated action with the rawness of the production a testament to its vérité nature - have been picked up on by critics numerous times before. One further documentary-inspired peculiarity of Japanese AV films is the lengthy interviews that usually precede the sex sequences, and Matsue has mentioned that he structured this film along similar lines. The girls are introduced then sent to the kitchen to perform, responding to Matsue's inane chatter off-screen behind the camera. After his appetite is satisfied, the two wind down with a few minutes of after-meal banter (pilau talk?) as they digest their meal.

Still, a documentary is more than a mere record of events or footage of people talking directly to the camera - there needs to be some sense of purpose about it. The results here are certainly watchable enough by the standards of the numerous cooking shows that fill the nation's TV channels. But unlike the fascinating Annyong Kimchee there's a distinct "so what?" air about this piece, and the end impression is of someone worming his way into various ladies' apartments and getting them to cook for him, then presenting his on-camera conquests to the rest of the world.

Matsue managed to combine all his interests into his follow-up work, 2004's Identity, a two-hour documentary about zainichi Korean girls who work in the sex video industry. The film, having been produced for AV market, features numerous lengthy hardcore sex scenes.