Tuesday, April 8, 2014




North Korea

Photo by Daily NK


The people who work for Jiro smuggle their footage across the Tumen River, which divides China from North Korea. The North Korean border guards have been known to shoot to kill.

The border has become even more tightly controlled since Kim Jong Un took over as Supreme Leader two years ago, the third ruler in the Kim dynasty after his father and grandfather. He inherited the world's most isolated country, where the people have no Internet and the state has almost total control on any information coming in or out.

Even with the tight security, Jiro and his Japanese news organization manage to get the footage out ....

"STATE EMPLOYEE": [through interpreter] This is dangerous. And if I get caught, I know I'd immediately be executed as a traitor to the Korean people. But I've got to do this. I've got to do this, no matter what. I'm just one person. Even if I have to sacrifice my life, someday something is going to change.

NARRATOR: The famine which killed more than a million North Koreans in the 1990s has ended. But the United Nations says the country is still vulnerable to food shortages, and more than three quarters of the population don't have enough food to eat.

STREET CHILD: [subtitles] Please give us a little money. Please, just 10 cents.

NARRATOR: Over the past three years, Jiro's undercover network has filmed orphaned street kids gathering in the markets, begging for money and on the lookout for scraps of food. For the safety of the people filming, he disguises their voices.


REPORTER: Who is this child?

WOMAN: An orphan. She's a child wandering around with no place to go.

REPORTER: Are you an orphan? How old are you?

1st CHILD: Eight.

REPORTER: How old are you?

2ndCHILD: Eight years old.

REPORTER: Eight years old? How did you end up here?

2ndCHILD: My mom tried to look after me, but she said it was too hard, so I left, and now I live outside.

REPORTER: Gosh. I'm so sorry for you. Here, buy something to eat with this.

NARRATOR: Very few of these orphaned children manage to escape North Korea, but we found one who did. He asked to be identified as "Lee"" and agreed to speak to us anonymously.

"LEE": [through interpreter] My father passed away when I was 3. And then my mother left home and didn't return. I was very hungry. I was almost always hungry when I was young. There were times when I ate a meal a day. But when I starved, I didn't eat for two days. Because I was hungry, I stole and picked pockets. I lived like that until I was 14 years old. There were many others. And there were children who starved to death.

INTERVIEWER: Did any of your friends die?

"LEE": Yes, they did.

INTERVIEWER: How old were you all then?

"LEE": I was about 11.

NARRATOR: Undercover footage from last March shows a group of homeless orphans trying to stay warm in below-zero temperatures.


REPORTER: Does anyone here work so you can have food and a bed?

CHILD: What work do you mean?

REPORTER: Do you know how to chop wood?

CHILD: I don't have an arm, so I can't.

REPORTER: You don't have an arm? Why don't you have an arm?

CHILD: It got cut off by a train.

NARRATOR: There is an elite in the capital city, Pyongyang, and despite tough international sanctions, they live a comfortable life with the latest luxury goods. This woman was filmed getting into a newly imported Mercedes on her wedding day.

North Korean State TV makes the country out to be a land of plenty. They show pictures of an advanced economy, happy, well-fed children and shops overflowing with goods. Pyongyang's Department Store Number 1 is stocked with imported products from around the world. But as Jiro's footage shows, many of the items are not for sale.


REPORTER: When will those clothes be for sale?

STORE CLERK: None of these products are for sale.

REPORTER: I can't buy anything?

STORE CLERK: These are only products for display.

REPORTER: Do you sell Daedongang beer?


REPORTER: Do you sell Daedongang beer?

STORE CLERK: We don't have anything to sell.

REPORTER: What are these, then? Aren't they for sale now?


NARRATOR: The department store is regularly featured on state TV, which tells its people they live in the best country on earth.

One of the regime's senior propagandists defected and is now living in the South.

JANG JIN-SUNG, Former Propagandist: [through interpreter] As well as a physical dictatorship, they oppress people with an emotional dictatorship. In North Korea, they promote the leader to be the sun. If you go too close, you burn. If you go too far, you freeze to death. You think of him as incredibly god-like. We thought he didn't even go to the toilet.

NARRATOR: North Koreans can't escape the omnipresent propaganda. Kim Jong Un's speeches are pumped from speakers on street corners. This one was on a loop for three months, promising his people a bright economic future.

Since the North and the South split in the late 1940s, hatred of America has been central to North Korean indoctrination. This government video shows a North Korean dreaming of New York City being destroyed by a missile attack.

ANDREI LANKOV, Author, The Real North Korea: The average North Korean believes a significant part of the anti-American propaganda. They believe that Americans are ready to invade. They believe that America is a threat. They believe that Americans started the Korean war in order to enslave or maybe commit large-scale genocide in Korea. They believe it. Not all, but a majority.

NORTH KOREAN NEWSCASTER: [subtitles] Long-range artillery units are aimed to strike imperialist aggressor troops on the USA mainlandÄ

NARRATOR: In Pyongyang, state TV news is broadcast on public squares, warning of imminent war with America....

North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong Un is the world's youngest dictator, ruling the world's most repressive state. Through unique undercover material, director and producer James Jones reveals cracks in the regime and investigates the impact the information revolution has had in North Korea.

Jones follows Japanese journalist Jiro Ishimaru, who has been training undercover cameramen in North Korea for fifteen years. On his latest trip to the border with China, he secretly meets one of his agents and receives new undercover footage revealing the harsh reality of every day life on the other side of the border. The footage shows starving homeless children and the elite driving the latest Mercedes in Pyongyang.

We also meet Mr Chung – posing as a mushroom farmer, he smuggles USB sticks and DVDs of South Korean soap operas and entertainment shows into the North. Through these activities, Kim Jong Un can no longer keep the world from seeing the reality of life in North Korea – and just as importantly, he can't stop his own people from discovering what the outside world is really like.

Directed and produced by James Jones


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