When working at BBC Storyville, I noticed a documentary film called ‘Japan: A Story of Love and Hate‘ which was shown on BBC4 in 2009… It took me until now to finally get around to watching it.
I’ve found that decent documentary films about Japan, (‘decent’ being defined as something which actually provides some kind of realistic insight into the enigma that is real, every-day Japanese life) are few and far between, especially when compared to the plethora of fantastic films about China which have emerged in the past few years (see China’s Stolen Children, Children of the Chinese Circus, The Biggest Chinese Restaurant in the World, the Law of the Dragon series, and, most recently, Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry.)
Sean McAllister‘s film, however, is unique in it’s brutally honest portrayal of ‘the working poor’, a new class within Japanese society who emerged after Japan’s 1992 economic crash and recession. This film follows Naoki, a 56 year-old, triple divorcee. Naoki was once a rich businessman. He owned three businesses, had a large, six-bedroom house, and a BMW. When the economy went bust, he lost everything.
Now, Naoki earns £3.50 an hour working in a post office ‘part-time’ (nb. ‘part-time’ in Japan means working 7 hours a day), he lives in a tiny one-and-a-bit room apartment with no windows with his girlfriend, Yoshie. Yoshie works three jobs and has a 15 hour day. Together, they earn around £15,000 annually.
Their daily life is a struggle, Naoki is totally dependent on Yoshie for financial support, without her, he would be homeless and would barely earn enough to survive.
The couple are also struggling emotionally. Naoki’s financial loss led to a crisis of self-confidence, and he finds himself sexually impotent and emasculated. Yoshie is reliant upon heavy medication to help her sleep through the night.
The film also sees widespread evidence of depression and mental illness within the Japanese population- several of Naoki’s work colleagues suffer with depression, some even having spent time in hospital for treatment. Naoki attributes this to the Japanese working environment, which often stresses productivity and financial success as the most important goal. This often comes at the expense of employee health and satisfaction.
It was also very interesting to look at some of the reasons behind Japanese suicides, having recently read up on the ineffective nature of the Japanese mental-health sector, and the continually high rate of suicides within Japan (over 30,000 people kill themselves every year, this figure has remained pretty much constant for the last 14 years, showing that the Japanese government has done little to try and deal with this very worrying issue.)
Despite it’s serious and sombre message, ‘Japan: A Story of Love and Hate’ is entirely compelling, and at times very amusing, primarily thanks to it’s subject, Naoki. He maintains a dry sense of humour, and is highly engaging, acting as a host to guide the bumbling Brit, McAllister, through Japanese society, and to expose the shocking truth about the poverty that exists within the world’s fourth-richest country.
You can watch the film in full here: http://www.veoh.com/watch/v20245800fHDBHAfa?h1=Japan+-+A+story+of+love+and+hate
Here’s a trailer, if you need any more covincing: