Children of Darkness

On Saturday, I went with a friend of mine to see the “Children of the Dark“(闇の子供たち) , a new film by Japanese director Sakamoto Junji primarily about child prostitution in Thailand. The story is primarily told through the perspective of the two Japanese main characters, a reporter for Bangkok bureau of the fictional Japan Times (no relation to the actual English language Japan times, but more of a pastiche of the Asahi or Mainichi. I believe the Mainichi was thanked in the credits) named Nambu, and a Japanese college student named Keiko, who is volunteering at a tiny Bangkok NGO. Secondary characters include Nambu’s mildly irritating 20-something Japanese backpacker/photographer sidekick, and a wide selection of Thai criminals, NGO workers, and abused children.

Except for a brief trip back to Japan around the middle of the film, it takes place entirely in Bangkok. The dialogue is mixed Thai and Japanese, probably with Thai dominating. Nambu speaks appropriately good Thai, as a foreign correspondent should (even if they don’t all), and Keiko speaks a bit haltingly, but according to the subtitles at least she seems to have no trouble expressing complex thoughts, or understanding what anyone says.

The central plot thread is your fairly typical “newsman uncovers a story and chases it ragged even at the risk of his own life” and makes sure to include a selection of the typical cliches, such as a back-alley gunpoint menacing in which none of the stars are harmed, despite a secondary Thai character having been shot in the head in another scene moments before or the photographer’s constant wavering between going home to safety in Japan or staying in Thailand to fight the good fight. At the beginning of the film, Nambu receives a tip that Thai children are being murdered so their organs can be transplanted into dying Japanese children. This is just one of the ways in which children become disposable in the film, but I felt like the addition of this imaginery (although certainly not impossible) scenario to the array of real horror detracted from the film’s effectiveness.

The primary goal of the film is the depiction of evils inflicted by adults on children, and there are a number of truly unpleasant scenes involving child prostitution by foreigners of both Western (American and European) and Japanese origin, as well horrendous mistreatment of the child slaves by their Thai captors. These sorts of terrible things happen all day long in many parts of the world, and it is understandable that the film makers wanted to depict it on screen, but I found the “deeper” messages to be more muddled than sophisticated.

Incidentally, the Japanese Wikipedia article on the film has a rather odd criticism I’d like to mention briefly. It mentions that Japanese blogs (2ch-kei foremost I imagine) have called it “an anti-Japanese film” since it “puts all of the blame for the selling of children in Thailand on the Japanese.” This claim is patently absurd. Of course a significant part of the film’s purpose IS to blame Japan predatory Japanese, but Western perverts are given at least as much of a spotlight in the brothel vignettes. And the Thai criminals who actually run the victimization business are hardly made out to be innocent bystanders.

For some reason I was mildly irritated by Keiko’s inexplicably competent Thai throughout the film, but it may simply have been the fact that I found the character generally pointless. When she first arrives at the NGO, one of the ladies working there asks her “Why did you come to Bangkok, isn’t there some good you can do in Japan?” While this question lingers throughout the film, and naturally Keiko does come to do some good in Bangkok, her motivations are never explored and her character acquires no depth. Why did she come to Thailand? Why is she even in this movie? She is tabula rasa- a standin for the audience, or rather for the way the film maker wants the audience to think. Her initial appearance suggested that she could have been an aspect of a message that I think the filmmakers were trying to convey-that Thailand (and presumably other countries like it, although no others are mentioned) are playgrounds for Japanese and Western neo-colonialists to act out their fantasies of either depravity or heroism without repercussion. However, despite this theme perhaps being touched on ever so briefly during her first  appearance, Keiko turns out to be nothing but an autonomic cliche of a young NGO volunteer.

I hope my ramblings do not give the impression that I hated the movie- I did not. I would, in fact, say that it was overall decent. But I did find it very disappointing. It starts well, and has a number of powerful scenes of horror and despair, but it is too long, the story is meandering and a bit cliched, and one of the leads is just dull to the point of no longer being annoying. Those with a particular interest in the problems this film addresses should see it, but wait for the DVD.

18 thoughts on “Children of Darkness”

  1. The Wiki complaint is easy to explain – the book that the film is based on was written by a Zainichi.

  2. Strange, I don’t see this complaint. Seems that Wiki has already edited that part.

  3. Luckily Wikipedia tracks all changes in history:



  4. Whoa, the many 2ちゃんellers label everything which contains the slightest critique against Japan instantly 「反日」

  5. Well,just out of curiosity. I have only read the book and not seen the movie, but what part of “blood and bone” could be anti-zainichi?

  6. Just to start off – I think that only a small minority of Japanese have strong anti-Korean attitudes so I`m not talking about a mainstream view here.

    I think, however, that for people who want to knock Korea, a few major themes come up time and again –

    – Domestic violence – depicted as being part of `Korean culture`
    – Uncritical ideas toward North Korea causing many to ruin their lives by returning there from Japan. Japanese right dwells on this.
    – Koreans as thugs and criminals – a bad influence on Japanese society.

    All of these tropes come up in “Blood and Bone”. Since it was from a Zainichi author it can be read as strikingly honest self-reflection. If it were written by a Japanese Japanese, however, I think that some would have said that it only showed the “bad side” of Zainichi society.

    I like this kind of popular culture, but I agree with a comment that Aceface made elsewhere. I think that the author repeats this stuff until it loses some of its force.

  7. i read today in the news paper over this movie. that is not allowed to shown at the film festivals of bangkok – proabably even this fact makes it getting attention – much more. i read your article here with interest and i hope i can watch this movie.. cause of this serious topic. i life in a western countire – we getting much less news about the asian world – its well hide for us. but all the cruel pervert ppl its an open world..

    i dont think that this movie blame only one contrie – it blame all countries where the ppl taken part of this horrible daily life of children. a story needs a point where to start and the maker choosed the characters in this way – nobody seems to have a better point in there who get in this scenes the white cloth in something dirty.

    i hope this movie will shown for many ppl to shown what happend behind there notice, behind closed eyes, behind cruel acceptings of this. it should ppl make awake. make feel mad. make feel nauseate over it – make them move in this view!

    its brave of Junji to make a movie over this topic.. and to dont take it to soft… it must creating high waves in each viewers feelings. probably it only can change the daily world of this children if much more ppl learning that its not right what is going on.

    i hope my english is good enough for getting understand and and right understand what i wanting to say.

    many greetings.

    ps: only cause its playing in a country and showing a true face behind walls – you should stop thinking its anti-xcountry. no contrie has a white cloth. no one. mostly not. if its history or present..there will be always dirt to find!

  8. I think criticism over the marketing of this film, as raised in that article, is fair. After all, the organ transplant sub-plot is fictional, based on long-standing urban legends that have (as far as I know) never been definitively proven or dis-proven. While the child prostitution scenes are (I imagine) accurate to the point of discomfort, for the marketing people to simply call the movie “true” when a significant portion is not does cloud the issue. And of course, the significance of this is that some people might hear the critics who correctly attach the PR claims of it being a “true story” and then come to the conclusion that the child prostitution segments are also fantasy.

    Unfortunately, this is not the case- while street organ transplants may not be real, child prostitution and rape certainly is, and there are undeniably large numbers of foreigners (as the film shows, Japanese AND Western-none of the Japanese internet critics I’ve seen mention this) guilty of purchasing those services. What the attackers aren’t getting, though, is that the organ transplant subplot is a metaphor for the commoditization of these children’s lives, taking the concept to an ultimate conclusion. I could almost guarantee that this was the intention of the writer and director, but perhaps he has done a poor job of explaining this in interviews.

  9. Actually this quote at the end, from someone in the PR firm, explains it pretty well:


  10. Yang So-Gil speaks.



    There was a discussion over at Jasongray’s blog and someone was asking how factual is the source novel and I was a bit skeptic.Yang used to write based on his actual life experience and they were worth reading.But he has tendency of overdramatize things,me think.

    Sakamoto(or more accurately the script writer,Arai Haruhiko) was severly criticized in the past by critic Yomota Inuhiko on factual accracy on his docudrama of Kim Dae Jung abduction flick “KT”.

  11. holy shit. can’t people peace out!
    i hate this shit.
    i hate ugly ngos and ugly old people who buy things that are ugly
    you’re destroying the county’s culture by doing it, ngos, you self-interested strictlers! stop forcing people
    and ugly old men buying things like this, at least keep it on the low-down. it’s pretty gross to look at a whole town like pattaya of this ugly shit and dark brown haggard whores
    take a more honorable life

  12. and people please stop talking about things in thailand if you’ve never been there. you almost never see child prostitution or anything like it, because it is very illegal. siam is changing a lot already, and their own people do care. they don’t need know-it-all westerners to push western ideas on them and western culture

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