Everything We Know About North Korea Comes From Kim Jong-Il's Sushi Chef
There is probably a pretty good dissertation to be written on the whole phenomenon of "Murderous Dictators Who Have Wacky Quirks," like howMoammar Khadafi collected Condi Rice sideboob photos or Uday Hussein's penchant for taking his pet tigers for a walk around Baghdad, or virtually any factoid about Donald Trump. (Not a murderous dictator, you say? Not YET, we reply.) But the master of the form was the late North Korean Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il, who was born under a double rainbow on a sacred mountaintop, claimed he invented the hamburger, and drank $700,000 of cognac a year. And he had a sushi chef who was the source of virtually everything that western intelligence knew about the Kim family, according to this GQ piece by Adam Johnson. Read the whole thing for the full brain-'sploding account of wretched dictatorial excess; we can only hope to share some aneurysm-inducing highlights here.
The sushi chef, "Kenji Fujimoto," (not his real name) told Johnson all about his incredible experiences working for 'il Kim from 1988 to 2001. Is it all true? It is definitely as real as any other pseudonymous tale of adventure that no one ever expected to happen! And, hey, we have no reason not to believe any of it, because everything about North Korea is automagically surreal to begin with.
We get stories about the Joy Division, which was not the English rock band but rather the "teams of beautiful North Korean girls, most forcibly recruited under the age of 16, [who] were maintained to provide entertainment, massages, and sexual gratification." We learn that Fujimoto really liked the black Mercedes Kim gave him. We find out that Kim thought his longevity would be increased through a diet of "perfectly shaped rice, grown in North Korea...cooked over wood harvested from Mount Paektu" -- that sacred mountain again. Fujimoto was, according to Fujimoto, Kim's BFF, the guy the dictator trusted to be straight with him because Fujimoto was ballsy enough to actually beat Kim -- who Fujimoto calls "Shogun-sama," or "great master" -- in a jet-ski race that was really a test of his loyalty, according to Fujimoto.
And so on. Kim liked Fujimoto so much that he invited him into his inner circle, arranged to have him marry a popular North Korean singer, and once had him over for movie night, where they watched the 1993 Clint Eastwood flick In the Line of Fire with Kim's security detail and the 11-year-old Kim Jong-un:
In the movie, Eastwood plays Frank Horrigan, a Secret Service agent haunted by what he perceives to be his failure to save President Kennedy from assassination. But Clint Eastwood's not going to let the current president die! There's a scene in which Eastwood's Secret Service team is running alongside the president's motorcade. Eight agents in suits move with a pair of black limos, each of them with a hand on a chassis to protect the president from an evil assassin, played by John Malkovich. Here Shogun-sama suddenly stood. "This is the best scene in the movie!" he announced. He turned to his secretary and pointed at him. "This is how you protect me," he said. Then he shouted at his security team, "You have to protect me as the Secret Police in the movie do!"
Are there close shaves? There are! Fujimoto got arrested in 1996 during a visit to Japan to buy fish, and was detained for eighteen months, during which the Japanese government set him up in a sushi restaurant at an Okinawa resort. While being questioned, Fujimoto was given books on how North Korea treats dissidents, something he never gave any thought to, he says. And he was visited by a shadowy man who he instantly recognized as an assassin...but who didn't return to kill him at the end of the day like he said he would. Fujimoto eventually returned to North Korea in 1998, and says that Kim told him it was all in good fun:
Kim Jong-il soon summoned him. Yes, Shogun-sama admitted, he'd sent an assassin to Okinawa, but he urged Fujimoto to forget about it. He was still alive, wasn't he? It was Kim's wife, Ko Young-hee, who'd reminded him of how funny and lovable his Japanese friend had been. Thus the killer was recalled.
After 18 months of house arrest, Fujimoto was allowed back into Kim's good graces, but he began to fear for his life since he was now aware that those who displeased Kim tended to disappear from official photographs. So he escaped back to Japan, and even now is not at all worried that his Korean wife and children might have suffered for it, because he and Kim, they had a connection, man:
"This is a difficult question," I said. "What did you think would happen to your wife after you escaped?"
Fujimoto told me he wouldn't have escaped if he'd thought she would be shot.
"Remember that my wife was Kim Jong-il's favorite singer," Fujimoto said. "And I believed Kim Jong-il never killed girls."
I said, "But they were sent to the coal mine, your wife and children, to be re-educated."
Fujimoto seemed untroubled by this. He said he'd done all that he could. Right away, he started writing letters of apology to Kim Jong-il.
"And it worked," he said. "After six years, they were freed."
But in spite of everything, Fujimoto dreams of returning to North Korea, to be pals with Kim Jong-un and bring about peace through superior ramen. They love him there. Oh, sure, his 22 year old son suddenly died one night, but Fujimoto is convinced that it was just his poor eating habits, because why would the North Korean government kill his son and not him?
Say, did we mention that Fujimoto has written three books about his experiences in North Korea and now lives on the fees he charges for interviews? (Johnson notes that GQ did not pay for the interviews for his piece -- but that the club where he and Fujimoto met charges $150 an hour for space.)
There's something really weird and epic and almost like something out of a fantastic fictional world about some of this -- Kim Garcia Marquez? The Secret Life Of Walter Fujimoto? -- but we aren't quite sure we can say whether we believe a word of it. Sometimes the whole story feels like bullshit. But it's about North Korea, which means that the more surreal it seems, the more likely it is to almost certainly be true. According to Fujimoto.
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.