Just two years in the job and armed with nuclear weapons, North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un is the world’s youngest dictator, ruling one of the world’s most isolated countries. The harsh, closed world of North Korea and the lengths the state goes to keep people under control reached primetime television in the U.S. In its Tuesday evening documentary, Frontline did a good job of presenting the reality of today’s North Korea without relying on the tired, over-used excesses of the country.
The show begins with Jiro Ishimaru traveling in a car in China near the North Korean border.
His contacts smuggle the footage out of the country at great personal risk to themselves and Ishimaru edits it, ensures that the identity of the people filming the video cannot be deduced, and then sells it to TV stations in Japan and around the world. It’s a unique, one-of-a-kind operation and the documentary relied heavily on his footage. Despite some of the clips being several years old, others were new and all provided a fascinating glimpse inside the DPRK to areas that few if any foreigners ever see. We see orphans scratching through dirt on the street to find food, the absurd site of the No.1 Department Store in Pyongyang were many of the things on display are not for sale, are taken inside a weekly local meeting where citizens receive revolutionary education and see a couple of amazing clips where citizens take their frustrations out on soldiers and police. The program introduces us to defectors that have escaped to Seoul, including some that run Open Radio for North Korea.


For anyone interested in technology, one of the most interesting parts concerns a defector that, once in Seoul, has decided to start sending movies, TV shows and other content back into the country.
And then we’re taken into a North Korean home were two young women are watching one of the DVDs.
For North Korean watchers, the program might not have produced many surprises or brought any new ideas, but it’s worth remembering that specialists are not the target audience. And even if you do know a lot about North Korea, it’s still recommended as a well-researched and well-produced documentary revealing another face of the DPRK.
It can now be viewed on the Frontline website, is available on the Frontline iTunes channel or can be purchased from PBS as a DVD. This entry was posted in Signs of the Apocalypse, Troutboy's Blog and tagged North Korea, United States. Like his father and grandfather, he wants to maintain tight control over what North Koreans see of the world — and what the world sees of North Korea.
The country typically only breaks onto American television screens when the North Korean government says something particularly provocative, and then its fodder for the non-stop news networks.
Ishimaru runs Asiapress, an Osaka-based news agency that specializes in undercover reporting from North Korea.


He has a network of North Koreans who have been provided with digital video cameras and have been taught basic video techniques. That’s one of the handful of radio stations that broadcast programming into North Korea each day via shortwave. In one scene, he meets a contact on the Chinese border and hands over a bag of media and DVD players to be taken into the country. But with unique access, FRONTLINE goes inside the secret state to explore life under its new ruler and to investigate the enigmatic “Morning Star King” as he tries to hold onto power. I’m grateful that effort is being made to distinguish the oppressed population from the despotic capitol, when other outlets try to represent the entire nation as one homogeneous enemy.
Using new footage smuggled from inside and never-before-told stories from recent defectors living in South Korea, the film offers a rare glimpse of how some North Koreans are defying authority in a country where just being caught with illegal DVDs could mean immediate imprisonment.



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