June 04, 2020

Social criticism in North Korean cinematography
Films noted the persistent problems in Kim Il Sungist society – but avoided real causes

In 1960s-1980s North Korean mass culture was governed by the concept of North Korea as an already realized “heaven on earth,” with visions of the material prosperity and moral perfection of most citizens. This self-image of the DPRK was close to the concept of communism in Soviet ideology. In the Soviet Union communism was perceived as a reachable but distant ideal, the way to which had to be long and perilous. As a logical outcome of the recognition of imperfection in contemporary Soviet life mass culture always contained an essential dose of heavy social criticism.

North Korean official culture, on the contrary, was constructed on the perception that the social ideal had already been achieved. Yet, North Korean culture was not deterred from depictions of some social problems in the DPRK. Many such problems were discussed in the regular-length feature films. However, apart from these numerous full feature films, there was a special genre in North Korean cinema aimed exclusively at social criticism. Following the Soviet traditional short films genre, which castigated various social evils in satirical form, North Korean cinematography evolved its own genre of short critical films which began with the slogan, “We have to eradicate such things from our life!” and were accompanied by thematic propaganda songs.