Of many movies about the North-South split on the Korean Peninsula, one unforgettable work is "JSA," a South Korean mystery thriller released in Japan in 2001.

Set in the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom, the film depicts the inner feelings of North and South Korean soldiers and their tension-filled interactions across the Military Demarcation Line (DML).

A South Korean soldier, played by Lee Byung-hun, wanders into the North by mistake, almost trips a landmine and becomes immobilized. He is saved by a North Korean soldier, played by Song Kang-ho, who defuses the mine and frees him.

The two soldiers return to their respective posts, going in opposite directions across the Bridge of No Return--so called because once anyone crosses it, there will be no going back. However, they continue to nurture their friendship behind their superior officers' backs.

In the real world, a North Korean soldier defected on Nov. 13, jumping out of his car and dashing across the heavily guarded border. He was seen by four North Korean soldiers, who fired more than 40 shots. Although seriously injured, the defector made it across the border into the South and was rushed to hospital in a helicopter.

Panmunjom is a tourist spot mentioned in any travel guidebook. When I visited, there was an overwhelming atmosphere of tension, unlike anywhere else. And I recall being surprised by all the things my tour guide warned me against--"Do not try to talk to any North Korean soldier," "Do not wave at anyone" and "Do not wear camouflage-colored clothes or any outfit that resembles a military uniform."

I saw the Bridge of No Return that was featured in the film "JSA." Obviously, I was not allowed to cross it. This was the bridge where prisoners of war were exchanged upon the signing of the Korean Armistice Agreement in 1953. Freed prisoners walked across the bridge to go home.

There are many unknowns about the latest case of defection from the North to the South. Why did this soldier defect? What preparations did he make, and what paths and bridges did he take to execute his plan?

A bridge of division still exists after half a century, forcing anyone who crosses it to live with the finality of their decision. This is a cruel and sobering reality.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Nov. 15

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.