Private Project

The Apology

The Apology follows the personal journeys of three former “comfort women” who were among the 200,000 girls and young women kidnapped and forced into military sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. Some 70 years after their imprisonment in so-called “comfort stations”, the three “grandmothers—Grandma Gil in South Korea, Grandma Cao in China, and Grandma Adela in the Philippines—face their twilight years in fading health. After decades of living in silence and shame about their past, they know that time is running out to give a first-hand account of the truth and ensure that this horrific chapter of history is not forgotten. Whether they are seeking a formal apology from the Japanese government or summoning the courage to finally share their secret with loved ones, their resolve moves them forward as they seize this last chance to set future generations on a course for reconciliation, healing, and justice.

  • Tiffany Hsiung
  • Tiffany Hsiung
  • Anita Lee
    Stories We Tell
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 44 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    April 30, 2016
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
    China, Japan, Korea, Democratic People's Republic of, Philippines, Switzerland
  • Language:
    Chinese, English, Japanese, Korean
  • Shooting Format:
    HD digital
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
  • Hot Docs international Documentary Film Festival
    April 30, 2016
    World Premiere
    Runner up for Audience Award
  • Busan International Film Festival
    Korea, Democratic People's Republic of
    October 4, 2016
    International Premiere
    Busan Cinephile Award for best world documentary
  • International Film Festival of India
    November 24, 2016
    India Premiere
    (ICFT)-UNESCO Gandhi Medal Prize - Special Mention
  • Guangzhou international documentary film festival
    December 10, 2016
    China Premiere
  • Cork International Film Festival
    November 16, 2016
    Irish Premiere
    Audience Award
  • Human Rights Watch Film Festival
    January 28, 2017
    Netherlands Premiere
  • Göteborg Film Festival
    January 31, 2017
    Sweden premiere
  • DocPoint Helsinki documentary film festival
    January 29, 2017
    Finland premiere
  • IFEMA International Female Film Festival Malmö
    April 7, 2017
    Audeince Award
  • IDF West Lake International Documentary Festival
    April 21, 2017
    Film of the year
  • North West Fest
    May 10, 2017
    Best Canadian Feature
  • Human Rights Watch Film Festival
    New York
    United States
    June 10, 2017
    US premiere
Distribution Information
  • Icarus Films
    Country: United States
    Rights: All Rights
  • Ak Entertainment
    Country: Korea, Democratic People's Republic of
    Rights: All Rights
    Country: China
    Rights: All Rights
Director Biography - Tiffany Hsiung

Tiffany Hsiung is a Peabody award-winning filmmaker based in Toronto. Whether it is filmmaking or teaching, Hsiung’s work has taken her through and beyond the diverse communities of her hometown, and well across the globe.

Her socially conscious work and dynamic artistry sparks a unique energy in the stories of marginalized individuals and communities. Hsiung’s approach to storytelling is driven by the relationship that is built with the people she meets. By shooting much of her own work, Hsiung obtains unobtrusive access to the stories she captures.

Hsiung is a graduate of Ryerson University, where she studied film production. She was the recipient of the Norman Jewison award. Her award winning short film ‘Binding Borders’ (2007), screened in film festivals internationally and propelled her to direct the RCI/CBC six-part mini series on Beijing’s first ever Olympic Games, ‘A New Face for Beijing’ (2008).

Since 2009 Hsiung has been documenting the lives of 3 survivors of military sexual slavery in Korea, Philippines and China during World War II by the Japanese Imperial Army for her debut feature length documentary The Apology (2016) A National Film board of Canada production. With a successful world premiere at Hot Docs International Film festival, The Apology was one of the festivals top 10 films and at the International premiere in Busan International film festival (Asia’s largest film festival) The Apology took home the Busan Cinephile Award for best documentary as well as Audience Award in Ireland at the Cork Film Festival and just recently awarded special jury mention for the UNESCO Gandhi Medal. The film has currently secured U.S and Korean distribution.

Hsiung’s work is fundamentally based on cross-cultural and intergenerational themes set to inspire younger generations and viewers to learn about their own cultures - and social responsibility in the global community.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

In 2009, a trip to Asia would change my life forever. That’s when I first met “The Grandmothers”. Prior to that trip I knew very little about the atrocities that occurred during the second world war in Asia – specifically, the institutionalized sexual slavery system that held captive over 200,000 girls and young women. When I asked the elders in my family to tell me stories about the past, what it was like during the war, they would shake their heads slowly and somberly say, “没有什么好说的, 不好听”, which meant: “There’s nothing good to say, nothing good to hear”. And that was the end of my history lesson.
As a “CBC” (Canadian Born Chinese), I often felt conflicted culturally. The North American approach is to speak out against injustice, while the Chinese way of dealing with hardship is to “吃苦”, which literally translates to “swallow the bitterness”. And of course, one must always “save face” to preserve pride and honor. I was first confronted with this dilemma at 8 years-old, after being sexually assaulted at home by a so-called family friend. I was paralyzed by the choices I could make, but either way, I felt that my world had already been shattered. I chose the temporary comfort and safety of keeping silent, and like the women of generations before me, I just learned to “swallow the bitterness”.
Fast-forward 17 years later, when I would meet these remarkable women in my film “The Apology”. History refers to them as ‘Comfort Women’ – a term used by the Japanese Imperial Army to describe the girls and women they forced into sexual slavery. But to me, they are the Grandmothers. What started off as a journey to uncover this dark history of human atrocities, soon turned into an exploration of perseverance.
When Korean survivor Kim Hak-Sun first spoke out publicly six decades after WW2 in 1991, she set off a domino effect. Other women in their respective countries started to speak out too, and the world would hear testimony after testimony from hundreds of women describing unimaginable crimes against them with the hope that justice would soon follow. Twenty-eight years later, their fight still continues.
After the first few years of spending time with Grandma Cao in China, Grandma Gil in Korea, and Grandma Adela in the Philippines, it was clear that there was more to this chapter in history, more than just the sexual slavery, more to these women that people weren’t seeing. I came to learn about their lives after the war, and how they survived. These Grandmothers had incredible resilience, made tremendous sacrifices, and ultimately displayed the true power of the human spirit.
Over the course of six years, each of the communities that we filmed demonstrated the importance of camaraderie. Knowing that you aren’t alone and that you will be supported after disclosing your past, can make the difference between speaking out, versus living the rest of your life in silence, and carrying the burden and pain of what you experienced as a victim. Society has perpetuated a culture of shame that has resulted in decades, or even a lifetime of silence for survivors of sexual violence.
These days the “Me Too” and “Times Up” movements are sparking a global dialogue that de-stigmatizes and reframes what it means to be a victim of sexual violence. The Grandmothers have taught me that although my past does not define me, the journey to come to terms with my past makes me who I am today. Discovering why I wanted to make this film was extremely difficult because I thought it was a story I wanted to tell, when in fact, it became a story I always needed to tell. It’s a story for the 8-year-old girl within me that struggled to tell her own family about the abuse. It’s a story for all the courageous Grandmothers who survived months and years of sexual slavery. It’s a story for every survivor that never had the space to be known outside the ugly crimes committed against them. It’s a story that brings to light the millions of untold stories of sexual violence that continue to go unheard.