Living with Dignity in My Own Breathing

cw: sexual assault and a bunch of horrible shit

What does it mean to live with dignity? To keep fighting even when it’s gone nowhere? To live in obscurity, defining life on your own terms? To have your life stolen by racists to give to someone else? That is what I think of when I watch “My Own Breathing”, the third and final film in a trilogy about girls forced into sex slavery for Japanese soldiers during World War 2. These now-women didn’t ask to be courageous, but they have to be. They cannot be reduced to “inspiration” for people watching. They can’t turn off their PTSD or expenses.

20-30 years after the cameras left, most of them are gone. As each film goes by, more of the subjects die. Reading the Wikipedia article, it seems the Japanese government’s strategy is to make a solemn apology once all the survivors have finally died, avoiding the need for financial reparations. Japan’s reparations have become more serious in the 20 years since the final film, but they’re still a pittance against the alleged crimes.

The women in the film knew they’d be made whole in their lifetimes. They died before it happened. “Someday people will know what happened here,” I tell myself. And I have that speck of doubt in my heart, and I wonder if these women felt it.