Salaryman is a deep dive into the lives of the Japanese black and white suits who make up the workforce. The documentary presents the overworked cycle of these workers through the men and women that are living it. You’ve seen them in film and television, the Japanese men and women wearing suits and ties as they walk through Tokyo. But you’ve probably never put much thought into who they are. Salarymen are a hard-working group often looked at as just another part of society that makes Japan’s life keep moving.
The salarymen of Japan often work from morning to morning. Their day consists of waking up at 6 am, being at work before 8 am, and working until 9 or 10 pm. But their workday doesn’t stop there. They often go out and drink with their bosses after a long day, which is also considered part of their working day. They drink until the last train home leaves the station. Often, they miss their trains and can be found sleeping on the streets, only to do the same thing in just a few hours. A unique thing here is that the writer/director Allegra Pacheco goes up to these men sleeping on the streets and outlines them in chalk. She does this to draw people’s attention to what being overworked can do.
Salaryman is interesting in many ways. First, it gives a voice to what can be considered the voiceless in Japanese society. These salarymen go to school only to work most of their lives with no time to themselves. Interviews explain being a salaryman is equivalent to being a slave. They work and work with no personal life. Some have said they feel robotic and that it is hard to know which version of themselves is on.
“…a deep dive into the lives of the Japanese black and white suits who make up the workforce.”
The film does get dark at times. At one point, a young woman discusses seeing a suicide at a train station. The rumor behind the suicide is that it was a young woman who was in the midst of applying for work. This is a common situation when the stress of finding a job becomes too much. In fact, there are a few minutes focused on a young woman named Matsuri. Matsuri committed suicide after working for nine months in the largest ad agency in the country. She felt overworked and did not feel as if she was actually living.
Around 40% of Japan’s workers are forced to work in an unstable environment. Some of them work for days straight, 72 hours to 100 hours a week, without being paid overtime. Parts of the film remind me of The Wolf of Wall Street with the effects of what being stuck behind a desk all day can lead to. It is not glamorous by any means and should be considered negligence on the part of the higher-ups in the company.
Salaryman is a unique look at life in another country. It explores what makes the country work and the consequences behind the societal structure that makes a country grow.
"…a unique look at life in another country."