Soon-Mi Yoo’s ‘Songs From the North’ Offers a Brave Look Into North Korea Now


Glimpses into the everyday realities of North Korea are increasingly common, but each new exposé feels something like the latest piece of some puzzle still too big to solve.

Songs From the North differs from most of its predecessors insofar as it’s from the perspective of a South Korean, Soon-Mi Yoo, whose foray into the DPRK is as personal as it is political. The film employs some of the guerrilla approach typical of such endeavors, but the fact that Yoo isn’t regarded as an outsider by the people she’s recording allows her to capture a number of revealing, unrehearsed moments that startle in their raw emotion.

There’s a frankness among her interviewees when discussing everything from the death of Kim Il Sung to reunification with the South, which weighs heavily on the North’s collective consciousness; at the same time, actually living in Pyongyang doesn’t afford them the inclination or luxury to consider the Fatherland with the same philosophical bent as their interlocutor.

Yoo’s lyrical, introspective title cards (“Is it possible to imagine a different North Korea?”) take the place of traditional voiceover and suggest a conflicted desire to reconcile her feelings about what she mournfully describes as a “land of evil.” Her manner of expressing this grief may not be as dramatic as footage of citizens falling over in despair after the passing of Dear Leader, but it is more convincing.

Songs From the North

Directed by Soon-Mi Yoo

Kino Lorber

Opens September 18, Anthology Film Archives