« June 2010 | Main | August 2010 »

July 2010

The Game of Their Lives Director Daniel Gordon on North Korea

29 Jul 2010(Thu)

During my recent visit to South Africa, I had the opportunity to chat with the British film director Daniel Gordon following a showing of his award-winning documentary on the 1966 North Korea World Cup squad, The Game of Their Lives, at The Bioscope independent cinema in downtown Johannesburg. In a special Football Japan Minutecast recorded the day before the first semi-final of this year’s World Cup, Gordon spoke about the North Korean footballers’ perceptions of their country and the rest of Asia, as well as his own upcoming feature on the 2010 final at Soccer City.

 

 

In The Game of Their Lives, there is a scene where Pak Doo-Ik and his 1966 teammates stand in front of the famous statue of Kim Il-Sung, and recall how the Great Leader told them to win one or two matches ‘as representatives of the African and Asian region’. During your time in North Korea, did these players ever talk about other Asian nations like Korea as a whole, China, or Japan?

 

They’ve talked about it conceptually, because they haven’t had much experience. Some of them seemed to go to Malaysia and Thailand a lot in terms of playing. They also went to India, and obviously a few of them played in Cuba. In terms of their knowledge of the outside world, it’s very, very limited. In A State of Mind, when we asked the girls about America as well, it was like “what’s America?” – America is a concept and they can’t point to it on the map. One of them had a globe on the desk, but this was just a pretty thing that they had bought at the market.

 

In terms of the Japanese-born North Koreans, they grow up in North Korean schools where they learn about how amazing the Great Leader is. All three of our films (on North Korea) have been bought by a Japanese distribution company for a lot of money, and they never, ever released Crossing the Line because it’s way too touchy for a Japanese subject. They released The Game of Their Lives in the cinema, and were bombarded with threats about a boycott of their cinemas. They couldn’t do that for A State of Mind, so they sold it to a Japanese broadcaster and let them take the flak. But this company is run by a North Korean Japanese, and that’s where his problem is, because he’s really mindful of the fact that any negative thing screws his business.

 

When he saw Crossing the Line – which is about four American soldiers who defected to North Korea in the 1960s, and then starred in North Korean propaganda films as the evil Americans – he said “I grew up watching those films; I love those films!” It’s the worst bit of propaganda filming that you could ever see – the acting is really hammy. He just said that when you grow up in a North Korean school, even though you’re in Japan, you’re part of that. I’ve seen the North Korean Japanese when they effectively come on their pilgrimages. They obviously look very different to everyone else, but you can also imagine that when they’re back in Japan, they’d look very different to other Japanese.

 

This year’s North Korea squad contained two Zainichi Koreans – Jong Tae-Se and An Yong-Hak – who had been born and spent most of their lives in Japan. Jong Tae-Se in particular is a fascinating character – he grew up in one of these schools and is very patriotic towards North Korea, but then at the same time, he listens to Japanese music, drives a hummer, and plays silly games in crazy Japanese TV shows with his teammates.

 

He’s now known as the one who cried uncontrollably in the national anthems during the World Cup. Born in Japan, grew up in Japan, but within the North Korean system.

 

A friend once asked him if he would live in North Korea, given the chance. Jong Tae-Se simply mumbled “well...” – he has all the trappings of modern life in Japan, so it’s such a conflict.

 

I’ve known North Korean diplomats who have been based in Beijing, and they’re the same. There, it’s not so much the trappings of wealth or freedom, because they’re not really free. But it’s just that they’ve got slightly more freedom. Also, with the players and other North Koreans who have come over (to the UK) – at the end of the day, for them, North Korea is home. Even a defector to whom I showed pictures of Pyongyang – he hates the system, he hates the government, and he escaped from it. But it makes him tearful when he sees pictures of Pyongyang and we can talk about the same streets, the same bars. He gets tearful because that’s his home.

 

Moving on to the film in South Africa, this will be just about the day of the final?

 

Yes. There will be build-up as well, although definitely not going back to the semis or other previous matches. There are all the preparations that go on at the stadium – I’m trying to find good local characters. We have now finally found some of the construction workers that were given final tickets in return for their work.

 

It’s a behind-the-scenes on the day of the final, but because we don’t know the teams in advance, we don’t know the level of access we’ll get to them. We have requested bigwig FIFA people to give us interviews and take us through what it means. We think we have got (Archbishop Desmond) Tutu as an interviewee, and there are some other characters who are very South African or very African who we would like to follow on the day of the final. There’s something that may or may not happen with (former President Nelson) Mandela which, again, we’re never going to know until two minutes before it happens. There’s lots of little ideas – we’ve got access to the referees so then we can tell their story on the day of the final, which would be great.

 

How about a Sepp Blatter story?

 

We’re trying!

 

 

* Jong Tae-Se left Kawasaki Frontale of the J-League to join 2. Bundesliga side VfL Bochum four days after this podcast was recorded.

 

Many thanks to Darryl Els and Russell Grant of The Bioscope for organising this opportunity.

Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack (0)


South Africa, South Africans, and ‘African’ identity

22 Jul 2010(Thu)

For a special Football Japan Minutecast recorded earlier this month, I spoke to Marc Fletcher – a PhD researcher from Edinburgh University who has spent almost two years following club and international football in Johannesburg. During the interview, Marc talked about how the World Cup experience has affected South Africa, and why local fans were so keen to support Ghana after the host nation were eliminated in the first round.

 

 

When we spoke last year, a lot of the conversation involved stadium preparations, safety in South Africa, and – in particular – Western perceptions and critical articles in UK newspapers. Twelve months on, these articles seem to have largely disappeared.

 

Yes, they have. I felt that a lot of the media coverage – back in the UK at least – was very under-researched. A lot of people were writing from their armchairs back home rather than coming out here. They’ve come out here now and seen some amazing, world-class stadiums – Soccer City especially. But also, there haven’t been the crime stories, or the bloodbath that the Daily Star for example had predicted. It hasn’t come true. There have been some issues of crime happening, but this would happen anywhere. It’s not just Johannesburg – it could happen in London, it could happen in Tokyo, it could happen anywhere.

 

Having been away from South Africa for a year and then returned again just before the World Cup, how has the city of Johannesburg has changed in this time?

 

Firstly, they have literally cleaned up the tourist sections and given them a fresh coat of paint! I’m being cynical there – there have been some major infrastructural changes. They have finished a lot of the road works and the stadiums as well. All the advertising billboards are far more colourful and really celebrating the World Cup. But also, it’s not just Johannesburg but the people themselves. I have never seen so many Bafana Bafana jerseys worn by so many people. It’s the flags – national flags everywhere. This just wasn’t happening last year before the Confederations Cup.

 

You have spent time with local supporters at fan parks and at a number of World Cup matches – how do you think South Africans have enjoyed this tournament, and has their enjoyment been affected by Bafana Bafana’s early elimination?

 

Bafana Bafana’s elimination has probably affected the volume of the vuvuzelas. In the build-up, and especially on the morning of the opening game, people were blowing vuvuzelas at five o’clock – it just didn’t stop. You can’t hear anything outside this room now, whereas then I had people literally standing outside my office all day. But I think that the South African fans have really taken to this World Cup. The majority of fans at these games have been South African. For the Paraguay versus Japan game that I was at, there weren’t actually many people from either Paraguay or Japan, but everyone got dressed up with the two countries’ national flags and costumes. Now, it’s just waiting for the World Cup to finish and the hangover to kick in…

 

Finally, it seemed as if the last remaining African representatives this year, Ghana, had the whole of South Africa behind them as they took on Uruguay in the quarter-finals.

 

Broadly speaking, yes they did. African football is very unique globally in the sense that, generally speaking, a fan in Angola would want Egypt to beat, say, Denmark – whereas this wouldn’t happen in Europe, Asia, North America, or wherever. There is this strange, unique sense of continental identity that we don’t get anywhere else really in the world. If you’re English, you wouldn’t necessarily want Italy to win against Argentina just because they’re European. But I’m not quite sure yet exactly why this happens – this sense of pan-African identity. I think it is a relic, or a consequence, of colonialism and struggling against colonial powers. After independence, they used football as a way to galvanise both a sense of national identity as well as an African identity.

Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)


Minutecast Johannesburg Special 5 – Back home

14 Jul 2010(Wed)

(This article originally appeared on the Football Japan Minutecast. Listen to the audio version here, or subscribe to the podcast via iTunes here.)

 

You know what, I think I prefer winter to summer. At least, I do when it’s a sunny 19°C as opposed to an oppressive 34°C. And fresh and dry rather than so humid that a ten-minute walk to the shops will leave you soaked even if you choose one of the few days where it’s not actually chucking it down. It helps too, of course, when there are parties, songs, and football instead of… well, work.

 

I had originally intended to follow the Minutecast recorded at Uruguay versus Ghana with another at Ellis Park 24 hours later, but this was ultimately abandoned for three reasons. Firstly, as can be confirmed by the podcast intro spoken that morning, my voice was absolutely shot to pieces from Soccer City the night before. Secondly, I was still a bit gutted that we weren’t going to be seeing Japan, although I did bump into seven Japanese supporters in and around the stadium that night – including a Bulgarian girl who seemed delighted not to be the only Caucasian with the Yatagarasu on her chest. Finally, Spain against Paraguay was simply never going to compare not only to the drama and controversy of Uruguay’s penalty shootout win, but also the atmosphere of a genuinely African crowd desperate for the Ghanaians to keep the flag flying.

 

In this sense, it was almost a shame that the Soccer City experience had come on my first full day in Johannesburg. The overriding image that I shall retain from the South Africa World Cup was that of tens of thousands of locals – encompassing all races, but most strikingly whites (to whom FIFA’s latter-stage ticket prices had arguably been most targeted) – decorated in flags, shirts, and face paint representing a nation of Ghana that most will surely never have visited. The phenomenon of multinational identity is probably at least as complex when exhibited so openly as is its far subtler form in East Asia, and while enjoying Germany’s quarter-final with Argentina at the Long Bar in Braamfontein, it was equally fascinating to observe how keen the majority of our fellow punters were to see the gold trophy ‘at least stay in the Southern Hemisphere’.

 

Not that the four-letter jokes being sprouted about Europe meant that I should be seen as an intruder. On the contrary, virtually every stranger I spoke to – from street traders to one gentleman in a bar draped in an enormous Ghanaian flag who later revealed himself to hail from Cameroon – made a point of welcoming me not only to their country but to Africa. If this is how all tourists and journalists have been greeted throughout the last five weeks, it is little wonder that the negative headlines that once dominated the Western and Japanese press have long been consigned to the archives.

 

Marc Fletcher mentioned in the first of the Minutecast specials that much of this criticism had been penned by ‘people writing from their armchairs back home rather than coming out here’, and certainly, there was nothing even witnessed from afar that gave me the slightest cause for concern during the eight days in which I enjoyed Johannesburg in person. Traffic in the central business district delayed our journey to Soccer City slightly but we still arrived comfortably in time for kick-off. Those who were not so fortunate for the Germany-Spain semi-final in Durban – the one logistical incident that has affected these Finals – were apparently muscled aside by jets carrying the VIPs that had left so many seats vacant in the earlier rounds, suggesting that the problem here may lie less with the South African organisers and more with FIFA’s priorities. And any suggestion that vuzuzelas have been a blight on the tournament will curry little favour with this column, which thoroughly enjoyed blowing B-flats both at the actual matches and at a friend’s wedding reception back in Japan this past Saturday.

 

As for Japan, their elimination to Paraguay barely twelve hours before I embarked on my outward journey was both dramatic and cruel, but I stand by my ‘tweet’ posted in the glorious aftermath of that 3-1 win over Denmark that a first knockout stage appearance on foreign soil represents the finest achievement in this country’s footballing history. It was a huge relief that Takeshi Okada finally found the courage to decide that the current crop of players were not suited to 4-2-3-1 against stronger opposition, and a sheer delight to see Keisuke Honda not only sparkle on the highest stage but do so in an unfamiliar striking role that few observers – myself included – would have predicted him to fulfil. The outgoing manager deserves enormous credit for surviving the intense and often excessive condemnation thrown at him by certain naïve sections of the domestic media to lead his side to within one penalty kick of a quarter-final against eventual champions Spain.

 

The challenge for his successor will be to carry the momentum into January’s Asian Cup in Qatar and a potential guest appearance in next summer’s Copa America, while the players must prove that they can now cope in the spotlight and live up to their enhanced reputations. Honda has been linked with a host of top European clubs, while a J. League exodus has already been confirmed for Shinji Kagawa to Borussia Dortmund, Atsuto Uchida to Schalke 04, and goalkeeper Eiji Kawashima to Lierse of Belgium. Football Japan wishes them all well in their new adventures.

Permalink | Comments (509) | TrackBack (0)


Minutecast Johannesburg Special 4 – Interview with Kaizer Chiefs supporters’ club chairman Nylon Mphahlele

13 Jul 2010(Tue)

Today’s Football Japan Minutecast is the fourth in a series of special features recorded in Johannesburg, South Africa, during the final stages of the 2010 World Cup.

 

A few days before Sunday’s World Cup final, I spoke with Nylon Mphahlele – chairman of the Greater Johannesburg branch of the Kaizer Chiefs supporters’ club – about the experience of a World Cup in his own country, how overseas fans took to cuisine such as pap and boerewors, and how the Premier Soccer League in South Africa might be affected when things return to normal.

 

Link: http://minutecast.footballjapan.jp/article/156180887.html

(Click here to subscribe with iTunes)

 

A written article based on this episode will be published on this page at a later date. A translation will also be available on the Japanese-language version of this column.

Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack (0)


Minutecast Johannesburg Special 3 – The Game of Their Lives Director Daniel Gordon on North Korea

12 Jul 2010(Mon)

Today’s Football Japan Minutecast is the third in a series of special features recorded in Johannesburg, South Africa, during the final stages of the 2010 World Cup.

 

Last week, I spoke to the British film director Daniel Gordon following a showing of his award-winning documentary on the 1966 North Korea World Cup squad, The Game of Their Lives, at The Bioscope independent cinema in downtown Johannesburg. In the podcast, Gordon speaks about the North Korean footballers’ perceptions of their own country and the rest of Asia, as well as his own upcoming feature on yesterday’s World Cup final at Soccer City.

 

Link: http://minutecast.footballjapan.jp/article/156158030.html

(Click here to subscribe with iTunes)

 

A written article based on this episode will be published on this page at a later date. A translation will also be available on the Japanese-language version of this column.

Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)


Minutecast Johannesburg Special 2 – Uruguay vs. Ghana at Soccer City

3 Jul 2010(Sat)

Today’s Football Japan Minutecast is the second in a series of special features being recorded in Johannesburg, South Africa, during the final stages of the 2010 World Cup.

 

This episode was recorded at Soccer City yesterday evening, where Uruguay beat Ghana on penalties after a 1-1 draw in 120 minutes. Ghana forward Asamoah Gyan missed from the spot with the final kick of extra time as the Black Stars fell agonisingly short of delighting their massed fans from all over Africa and the rest of the world.

 

Link: http://minutecast.footballjapan.jp/article/155517192.html

(Click here to subscribe with iTunes)

 

A written article based on this episode will be published on this page at a later date. A translation will also be available on the Japanese-language version of this column.

Permalink | Comments (318) | TrackBack (0)


Minutecast Johannesburg Special 1 – South Africa, South Africans, and ‘African’ identity

2 Jul 2010(Fri)

Today’s Football Japan Minutecast is the first in a series of special features being recorded in Johannesburg, South Africa, during the final stages of the 2010 World Cup.

 

In this episode, I speak to PhD researcher Marc Fletcher of Edinburgh University about how the World Cup experience has affected South Africa, and why local fans will be supporting Ghana in their quarter-final against Uruguay at Soccer City later this evening.

 

Link: http://minutecast.footballjapan.jp/article/155237437.html

(Click here to subscribe with iTunes)

 

A written article based on this episode will be published on this page at a later date. A translation will also be available on the Japanese-language version of this column.

Permalink | Comments (63) | TrackBack (0)


« June 2010 | Main | August 2010 »