Soon-Mi Yoo's Songs From the North is a unique documentary about North Korea in that it never focuses on the tyranny or oppression of North Korea's dictators, instead interested in exploring the people of North Korea and the history of how the country was shaped in the post-Korean War era. Soon-Mi Yoo uses a host of varied media to provide her unique portrait of this enigmatic country, combining interwoven footage from three visits to North Korea, archival footage, popular music and movies, and various stage performances, to observe a country without the typical lens of jinoistic propaganda within the country nor satire from outside it. For lack of a better word, Songs From the North attempts to explore the psychology of a country and its people that has been completely shut off from the outside world, effectively humanizing the millions of people who have grown up in this isolated country. This isn't a film that makes excuses about the countless acts of evil which the leaders of North Korea has committed but it does question how North Korea got to this place, offering a mature portrait of the outside influences of Japan and America being central to the emergence of modern day North Korea. Songs From the North captures the culture of North Koreans and how it is built around overcoming the oppressive outside world, offering a rather startling and fascinating glimpse into the mindset of these people, who have collectively been raised to believe the outside world is a barrier to their success, which has also created a collective love amongst their own people. One of my favorite sequences in the film is when Soon-Mi Yoo simply asks the viewer whether North Korea is the loneliest place on earth, pointing out how it is the only country without allies or even much of history, with its people trapped in this secluded sphere of influence. Through Songs From The North the filmmakers challenge the fundamental meanings of patriotism and freedom, being a film that is effective at helping the viewer come to understand the collective psychology of North Korea.
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