By now you’ve probably heard about the Netflix original movie Okja. The film follows a young girl, Mija, as she fights to save her best friend, a “superpig” named Okja, from the powerful Mirando Corporation, which wants to turn her into food.
Since its premiere, the movie has inspired millions of people to ditch meat, in a reaction referred to as the “Okja effect.” Don’t believe us? Just look at these reactions on Twitter.
We got a chance to sit down with the film’s director, Bong Joon Ho, to ask him some questions about his life-changing film.
How did you come up with the story idea for Okja?
While driving in Seoul in 2010, an image of an extremely gigantic animal—even bigger than an elephant—just appeared in my mind. But instead of being threatening, she was shy, introverted, and a bit melancholy. I wondered about her. Why is she sad? Who would want to harm her? Why is she so large? Size is often connected to a product’s commercial value, such as with “super salmon,” so naturally that led me to think about the food industry and how we often put animals in two categories: food and not food, meat or pet. I thought most would see this massive being as a “food animal,” but others would never see her or any other animal as meat. And because of her size, I imagined she was created to be so big—for profit. So, the story began to develop around those ideas.
Was Mija’s friendship with Okja based on a connection you’ve had with an animal?
I grew up with a dog, a white spitz. When I was in the third grade, my family had to move to Seoul, and the new apartment building didn’t allow dogs, so he stayed with the new owners in our old home. It was a painful memory for a long time. The dog was family to me, and it was difficult to process my complex emotions.
You’ve talked about visiting a slaughterhouse as part of your research. How did you use that experience in making the film?
The trip to a large, industrial slaughterhouse in Colorado was a crucial experience and influenced the writing and shooting of the film immensely. More than research, it was a defining experience. I had already seen slaughterhouse videos and documentaries, so I naively thought I was mentally prepared—that it would just be confirmation of what I already knew.
The moment I stepped in, I realized I had been thoroughly mistaken. It was overwhelming in all aspects, especially the smell. When I returned to New York and then to Korea, I felt as if the smell was still lingering around me.
At the slaughterhouse, I witnessed closely the process of a live animal being turned into a product—the dismantling, the details. The process was shocking in itself, but what was truly emotionally devastating was going back out and seeing the eyes of the cows lined up in the corral as they were being driven into the plant. The chutes were supposedly designed with “humane treatment” in mind, but that was hardly comforting. I had already seen what happens inside, and they had no idea. I was an emotional wreck, and those emotions were reflected in the feedlot scene of the film.
What did you learn while making Okja that shocked you the most?
Again, it was the Colorado slaughterhouse: Seeing how animals are turned into products—on such a large scale and in such a systematic manner—was immensely shocking to me. Just witnessing the magnitude of the system and the implementation of the automations and the pipelines in that large, industrial setting was mind-blowing.
How have audiences reacted to the film?
Whether in Korea, Japan, or the U.S., a lot of people have said they won’t eat meat after having seen the film, and others have said they’d be more conscious of where their meat came from or would reduce their consumption.
How do you feel about viewers choosing to stop eating meat because of Okja?
If people become vegan after seeing the film, that’s great, but I still respect those who say they’ll continue eating meat.
What do you hope viewers take away from the film?
I hope people come away with more awareness of how food is made, particularly animal products.
Can cinema change the world?
The world is always changing. There are always many people working to change the world, and cinema is only a small part of that. I don’t shoot movies to change the world. I create cinema for the sake of cinema, for the sake of its own beauty, but I do wish that beauty contributes in some small way to changing the world.
All animals deserve consideration. We can make a big difference for animals suffering at factory farms by leaving meat and other animal products off our plates. Click here to get started!