The Value of Autobiographical Memory in Media Advocacy Campaign_4

A Case Study of Crowdfunding: the Campaign for the film “Sprits’ Homecoming” in South Korea

The Comfort Women and Cultural Memory in Korea

The novel, “Eyes of Dawn” was published in 1981. Written by Kim Seong-Jong, the story is mainly based on the Japanese colonial period, the Second World War, Korea’s liberation, and the Korean War. In 1991, the novel is made into a television series. The story is not only about the story of comfort women, but it is considered the first cultural product in Korea which represented their story. However, the issue of comfort women failed to get public attention through these media. Based on the official announcement from the conform woman, Kim Hak-Soon, the documentary, “Silence Broken: Korean Comfort Women” written and directed by Dai Sil Kim-Gibson in 2000 and the movie, “Snowy Road” in 2005 were produced. These efforts also could not bring this issue into the public discourse. 

The film “Spirits’ Homecoming” was produced based on one person’s autobiographical memory. Her memory is mediated through her drawings, including “Burning Virgins.” The director of the film decided to make the drawings into a movie. According to the official website of the film production:

The film does not seek simply to criticise the Japanese government nor does it seek to provide shallow comfort for the victims. Instead, it aims to highlight the devastation and tragedy of the history caused by the military of Imperial Japan, and to heartily send out the message that this cannot be repeated. So we dare say that this is not the story of the ‘past’ but of the ‘future’ for all (JO Entertainment Website 2016).


The film can be considered quite successful in shaping Korean’s cultural memory of the comfort women. Unlike the previous media products, the film has broaden its impact further as it is a new social movement constituted by the current participatory culture that we live in. 

In the current participatory media culture, crowdsourcing is considered a new way to obtain resources such as ideas, solutions, or financial contribution from audiences, it is a new type of media network in relation to economic activities. There are four basic categories when it comes to applications of crowdsourcing: crowd wisdom (collective intelligence), crowd creation (user-generated content), crowd voting (participation) and crowdfunding. Among them, crowdfunding used social networking and the Internet in order to raise funds. Crowdfunding gathers financial resources provided by users to organise or carry out a project and is reinforced through online participation of users such as voting, comments, sharing and twittering. A combination of the micro-payment scheme and sharing buttons on social networking sites has created better adjustment between supply and demand making crowdfunding as a more efficient production process from an economic standpoint (Carvajal, Carcía-Avilés & González, 2012).

The movie “Spirits’ Homecoming” took an advantage of the current media networking culture through crowdfunding. More than 70,000 Korean citizens financially sponsored the film. Their motivation to participate might stem from the historical tension between Korea and Japan, but the number of people could easily participate in the process of movie production thanks to social media networking websites. The most impressive part of this crowdfunding is that the film shows all the sponsors’ name at the end-credits scene. It would be meaningful to all Korean citizens who participated in crowdfunding of the film.

The movie is analysed at a collective level (i.e., pluri-medial networks), not only because of crowdfunding but also because social media campaign considered the crowd contribution on movie marketing. Before the movie was officially released, a social media campaign called “Hug_Together” was initiated on Facebook, Instagram and Kakaotalk (i.e., the Korean version of Whatsapp). It was about changing Facebook or Kakaotalk profile picture to a butterfly which stands for hope and comfort women, the #Hug_Together, with the screen shot of the butterfly profile picture. This social media campaign created an icon of cultural memory for comfort women, ‘a butterfly with hope’. In addition, it helped to advertise the movie through new media platforms as a form of crowdsourcing.

After the movie was released in South Korea, it drew 2.21 million viewers in March (Yonhap 2016).  It is considered quite successful, and the production company decided to screen the film in UK, US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (Ahn 2016). Therefore, Koreans who live in overseas countries could obtain a chance to participate indirectly in the process of shaping cultural memory.

Autobiographical Memory to Human Rights Advocacy

The production of the film and the social media campaign started from one person’s autobiographical memory. Her drawings based on her memory were made into a film and this has massively influenced the shaping of Koreans cultural memory on the history of comfort women. It provided an opportunity for the minority group that their memory could change the denied history written by the Japanese government through the media campaign. This shows how real and meaningful human rights advocacy can be produced through media campaign starting from autobiographical (i.e., bottom-up) memory.   


The Value of Autobiographical Memory in Media Advocacy Campaign_1

A Case Study of Crowdfunding: the Campaign for the film “Sprits’ Homecoming” in South Korea 


“Bottom-up memories began to replace top-down historiography since World War One” (Kim 2014, p.85).

A new movie “Spirits’ Homecoming”, directed by Cho Jung-Lae, was released in South Korea on February 2016, drew 2.21 million viewers by March. This film is not only considered as an art form, but also a media campaign since the movie production was funded by more than 70,000 Korean citizens through crowdfunding. The film was based on the testimony of comfort women, their memory mediated through art drawings, and by the film itself. This campaign constitutes a meaningful process, shaping the cultural memory of Korea in relation to the comfort women issue.


About the Movie

The movie was directed by Cho Jung-Lae who is an indie movie director. He typically directs movies related to minority or Korean culture. His previous movie includes “Duresori” which is about students who study and practice traditional music in Korea. His documentary, “Youths on Feet: A Great Journey to Our Nation” also shows his passion towards the Korean peninsula and the people of Korea. 

The film “Sprits’ Homecoming” was produced based on a true story of one comfort woman in Korea, Kang Il-Chul. According to her statement, teenage Korean girls were forcibly taken by the Imperial Japanese Army to be sex slaves for them during the 1940s.

Kang Il-Chul is portrayed as one character, Jung-Min in the film. Jung-Min is an innocent and clumsy teenage girl, an ordinary girl living in the 1940s. She lives with her father and mother, peacefully thinking of getting married to someone in the future. One day, some Japanese policemen take her away from her family and put her in a car with a bunch of teenage girls. She arrives somewhere in China, and starts to work as a sex slave for the Japanese armed forces.

In the meantime, there is a character named Eun-Kyung who lives in the twentieth first century. Her father is murdered while he tries to save her from a burglar. Since then, she develops a mental disorder, and her mother takes her to meet a female shaman. The shaman finds out Eun-Kyung can talk to dead souls. One day, Eun-Kyung sees Jung-Min’s soul and her life as a sex slave.

Jung-Min and the other girls are saved by Korean independence armed forces when they are about to die. However, Jung-Min dies when she is shot by a Japanese. Eun-Kyung consoles the ghost of Jung-Min to make her spirit come back home. The movie shows how the teenage girls’ tragic experiences, as it was without any human rights or dignity, their bodies only for the purpose of war and the militarism.