In the latter half of the last decade, the term "black corporations" gained online currency with young Japanese job seekers and laborers at companies that overwork their employees.
Now, a DVD documentary has been released in Japan that documents the plight of young employees who are often overwhelmed by brutal working conditions.
“Black Kigyo ni Go-Yojin!" (Beware of black corporations) was directed by Tokachi Tsuchiya.
A black corporation is defined as one rampant with illegal practices, such as unpaid overtime, abuse of authority and forced resignations.
One young woman featured in the DVD was overworked to the point of suicide only two months after she joined a Japanese-style pub chain. A young man in the documentary developed depression due to working long hours at a convenience store.
Officials with Posse, a Tokyo-based nonprofit labor counseling provider, said that black corporations come in three typical categories: the "throwaway" type that overtaxes employees with long working hours and excessive assignments; the "sieving" category that hires scores of workers, but soon fires everyone except those few whom they really want; and the "disorderly" class that allows sexual harassment and other abuses of authority to flourish.
A native of Kyoto Prefecture, Tsuchiya, 41, won first prize in the Muhr Asia-Africa Documentary competition in the 2009 Dubai International Film Festival with "A Normal Life, Please."
Following are excerpts from a recent interview with the director by The Asahi Shimbun:
Question: Why did you decide to direct a film about black corporations?
Tsuchiya: Because young people are facing horrible working conditions nowadays. Working hours are extremely long, and many companies forgo overtime pay. "Black corporations" refer to those that engage in these and other illegal practices. But young people never learn about labor laws before they become working adults, so they don't know how to cope with the situation. I want young people to watch my film and think about how it relates to their situation.
Q: Long working hours have long been a common practice in Japanese companies. Do you think the problem is new?
A: I agree that there has always been a "black" side to Japanese companies. But in exchange, they took care of their employees until retirement age and they raised wages according to seniority. But now, workers are being thrown away. My juniors have been overworked to death. And some corporate managers openly say that corporate activity would be impossible if they abide by labor laws. I think we live in a horrible age.
Q: How is your film different or original?
A: The movie is centered on interviews, but I added drama-like scenes to illustrate what kind of training a new recruit typically receives in a black corporation. I intentionally concealed the face of the actor who played the young man because I want young viewers of my film to think about what they would do if they were in his place.
A friend of mine died while I was directing the film. He was a plant worker, but his job evaporated abruptly due to circumstances of his employer. Stress and bullying at work caused him to develop mental depression, and he killed himself. He had asked for my advice, but I could not save him. People in such surroundings can seldom benefit from a helping hand.
Q: In "A Normal Life, Please," your 2008 work, you filmed how a truck driver, who used to work 550 hours a month, joined a labor union to fight.
A: I myself have always been a laborer. My father died when I was 10, so I began working as a newsboy in my teens and did day labor at a factory. I have worked under unfair conditions without knowing anything about labor laws.
When I was fired by a video directing firm that I had joined in Tokyo, I joined a labor union for talks with the company. I won settlement money, with which I bought a video camera and began making films. That changed my life. That's why I want to tell people, through my work, that laws are there to protect the rights of workers.
The Japanese-language DVD "Black Kigyo ni Go-Yojin!" is available for 6,000 yen ($58), not including tax, from the Pacific Asia Resource Center, a Tokyo-based nonprofit organization.
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