Megumi: Documentary Manga on Abductions by North Korea

megumi manga

Before Megumi I never knew about the existence of “Documentary Manga” so I took the book out of the Japanese Foundation Library shelf with high curiosity. As what the title says, the manga is a true account of the abductions of Japanese people by the North Korea.

Revolves around Megumi Yokota (横田めぐみ) who is one of at least thirteen Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Korea in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the story is told from Megumi’s parents perspectives: Shigeru and Sakie Yokota, who supervised the creation of the book (illustrated by Soichi Moto).

It is a very heartfelt manga as you learn about the poor fate of Megumi. One day happy with her family of parents and two younger brothers, and the next abducted to a foreign country, never to be heard again until twenty years later, during which Megumi’s family thought she could be dead. Until one day a North Korean agent spoke up about the whereabouts of Megumi.

What came after was horrible mind games done by the North Koreans. One day they would say Megumi was alive and the next send human bones claimed to be Megumi’s (a DNA test that followed proved that they weren’t). They said Megumi got married and had a daughter. While the daughter was allowed to send letters to the Yokotas, they do not allow any contact with Megumi. There are a lot of other little things that make me wonder what their real intentions are to play with people’s life and feelings. Megumi and the Yokotas were just ordinary people who were at the wrong time and the wrong place, sucked into psychological political war between the South and the North Korea (apparently the North Koreans abducted some Japanese to learn to disguise themselves as Japanese with the purpose to penetrate the South).

A lot of the scenes really got to me. I couldn’t help imagining if I were the 13 year old girl abducted and my parents lost me one day, not knowing whether I were alive or dead. For if there’s even a glimpse of hope that I’m still alive, I know my parents would go as far as Sakie and Shigeru Yokota do. Their perseverance and faith is so commendable, and truly touching.

I went to South Korea in 2008. Even to these days there’s huge tension between the two countries. There is a part in the book where Megumi’s parents went to visit the South and North Korean border, a place that I have visited as well. So I recognized many of the places and the experiences: the dynamites and electrified border along the highway, the armies, the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone): 4 km wide buffer zone between the South and the North–the most heavily militerized border in the world, the North Korean’s tallest flagpole (160m) with its biggest flag (270kg) in the world (which you can only see from afar with a binocular, on the South Korean side). It was such an eerie experience, to say the least.

Megumi is published with the aim to enhance the understanding of the international community concerning the abductions of Japanese citizens by North Korea. It is distributed through Japanese diplomatic offices, including embassies and consulates. But it is not available for purchase, which explains why I had never seen the book anywhere. It doesn’t even have a record on popular book website like goodreads.

Megumi is a very informative manga (as documentary should), packed with emotions as it is told from the parents of the abductee. I love how the Japanese use medium such as manga to convey an important message. It’s a bit of a weird read, since there’s no proper solution to the “story”. Even though I knew the real-life Megumi is still held by the North Korean and there’s no way the book ended up happily, there was a part of me that was still hoping for it. Alas, it’s real life and the struggle continues.

4.5 stars
2005

You can read the excerpt of the manga here. Apart from the manga, there’s anime made available for download (25 minutes full version), and also 85-minute documentary film titled Abduction: The Megumi Yokota Story that has won many awards, produced by Jane Campion. Both of which I look forward to watching sometime.

More info about Abductions of Japanese Citizens by North Korea.

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