Review: ‘The Apology’

Hot Docs 2016

3 mins read

The Apology
(Canada, 104 min.)
Dir. Tiffany Hsiung
Programme: Canadian Spectrum (World Premiere)


Only a handful of films appear annually in the Scotiabank Big Ideas series, in which panels of esteemed guests join Hot Docs audiences for extended Q&As. Clearly, the selected films need to feature major celebrities or hot button topics to pack a house and fuel discussions. Tiffany Hsiung’s timely and profound The Apology is one of the latter films. It features no recognisable names but the subjects, known collectively as “grandmothers” by their families, friends, and neighbours, are more significant than any star could be. Hsiung invites three grandmothers to share the notorious history of “comfort women”—women kept as sex slaves for the Japanese army during World War II. A landmark film for its subject matter and the sensitivity with which Hsiung approaches it, The Apology is one of the best films ever produced by the NFB.

The Apology shows the remaining survivors across Asia as they provide support and rally at the Japanese embassy in Seoul. The film features three women— Grandma Gil in South Korea, Grandma Cao in China, and Grandma Adela in the Philippines—as they tell their histories in compassionate and supportive circles. The respect for these elders doesn’t extend to the officials of the Japanese government, however, which continue to deny their existence almost 70 years after marking them with physical and emotional scars. Hsiung empathetically gives the women a forum to speak and relieve themselves of the stories they hid from their closest loved ones, husbands, children, and friends.

The sense of release and the swelling feeling of catharsis are overwhelming as the film reminds audiences to respect the rights and experiences of survivors. It implores audiences simply to listen. As The Apology gives voice to women who refuse to be silent, the film is courageous in its determination to speak in the face of adversity. One doubts that Hot Docs could find few films more worthy of a conversation at the fest this year.

The Apology screens:
-Saturday, April 30 at the Bloor Hot Docs Cinema at 6:30 PM
(Scotiabank Big Ideas screening featuring Grandma Gil and director Tiffany Hsiung)
-Sunday, May 1 at TIFF Bell Lightbox at 10:30 AM
-Sunday, May 8 at the Isabel Bader at 12:45 PM

Hot Docs runs April 28 – May 8. Visit for more information.



Pat Mullen is the publisher of POV Magazine. He holds a Master’s in Film Studies from Carleton University where his research focused on adaptation and Canadian cinema. Pat has also contributed to outlets including The Canadian Encyclopedia, Paste, That Shelf, Sharp, Xtra, and Complex. He is the vice president of the Toronto Film Critics Association and an international voter for the Golden Globe Awards.

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