"Dokdo" in Korean, and "Takeshima" in Japanese, is a small island that sits in the middle of the sea between South Korea and Japan. Both countries claim its sovereignty, and both can legally prove ownership. This island has been the source of a fervent territorial and political dispute between the two nations since the end of the Japanese occupation of South Korea in 1945, following WWII. Nevertheless, Dokdo’s total land area is less than 50 acres. The island has no considerable exploitable resource or territorial significance. More than anything else, Dokdo is a national symbol.
The Japanese occupation meant forced labor, sexual slavery, and the systematic destruction of Korean culture, and Dokdo has remained as a symbol of the time. Koreans see Dokdo as a source of pride and defiance in the face of oppression, and many fear that losing the island would mean losing their national honor and identity.
Thousands of Koreans change their legal addresses to the island in sign of complaint. Other more extremists have gone on the streets to kill green pheasants -national bird of Japan- and to spill their blood on top Japanese flags. The meaning of this island has been reinforced and kept alive through generations of advocates who fight in the name of Dokdo; but many of them have motivations and relationships to the island that are far more complex than the obvious social and international elements.
Dokdo explores that human and individual side behind the broad political issue, and explores ideals behind nationalism in a country with a strong sense of identity. The film follows three Korean advocates:
Song Gwang Min is a young man who escaped North Korea thanks to his grandfather, who used to be a South Korean soldier. By himself now, Gwang Min lives in South Korea, adapting to the new place, and honoring his grandfather's last wish by protesting for Dokdo along a youth advocacy group.
Choi Kyeong Soon is the daughter of the first ever resident of Dokdo. She grew up, and lived on the island for about 17 years with her father. She now balances raising a family with planning guided tours to Dokdo, and strives to move back to the island against government restrictions.
And, Noh Byeong Man, a quiet farmer and family man, but also one of the most sensationalistic voices of Dokdo, famous for traveling to Tokyo to protest in favor of Korea. He wants Japan to apologize and end all claims to the island. Byeong Man states that he sees Japan as a strong boulder, and he sees himself as an egg: "the boulder will always break the egg, but the boulder will become messy in the process."
Dokdo is a metaphor where both individual and social coexist. The film seeks to humanize a controversial issue while agitating national ideals, and exciting international comprehension. This island is a representation of meaning and identity, a topic that any language can understand. Land disputes and cultural conflicts are a universal fact in this quickly globalizing world, and to truly understand a political dispute of this nature we must understand the people involved.