March 24, 2015
Japanese workers appear to manifest some of the most extreme reactions to the challenges of modern life. Often these are related to the uncertainties of work and the fracturing of time and space associated with contemporary working life. Two of the most common characteristics of the Japanese response appears to be isolation and exclusion. Recently, the Japanese Government investigated the phenomenon of banishment rooms which some firms are alleged to have used to exclude unwanted employees. There has also been a great deal of talk about hikikomori, those people who lock themselves away from the rest of the world, estimated to be up to 1 percent of the population. Now, a new film from Shiho Fukada tells the story of two Japanese men who have taken to living in Internet cafes as they seek to find their way in life.
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The film explains how Japan creates the perfect storm of forces needed to create these conditions. Corporate life is often personally demanding and unusually stressful to such an extent that the Japanese have even coined a word describing death from overwork – karoshi; holding down a job is seen as an important status symbol; Japan offers little in the way of financial benefits for those out of work; and yet working life is increasingly uncertain as short term contracts become more and more commonplace for many people, as is the case in many countries. The result is people struggle financially and lose their way in society.
The two men in the film are a 26 year old security guard and a depressed older man who resigned from his corporate job to try to seek something better.
Shiho Fukada has explored the dislocation of working life in Japan before, including in these remarkable images detailing the rootless lives of so many employees in Japan.