I share my comments on “An Ant Strikes Back” a Japanese documentary by Tokachi Tsuchiya, which is being screened at the 20th Nippon Connection – Japanese Film Festival (June 9th – 14th, 2020), online via Vimeo.
I would like to remind readers that this year’s Nippon Connection – Japanese Film Festival (from Germany) is being held online. You can rent the films on Vimeo (VOD) for $6 USD / €5 Euros. Some films have country restrictions. For more information please go to https://nipponconnection.com/
It is estimated that in the last 12 years more than 5 thousand Japanese have overworked themselves to death. This tragic phenomenon is so recurrent that the Japanese coined the term “Karoshi”, which can be translated literally as “overwork death”. Karoshi was first described in 1978 but it wasn’t until 1980s that it became a public concern by the Japanese Ministry of Labour. The major medical cause of karoshi deaths are heart attack, stroke due to stress and starvation. Poor working conditions, extensive working hours and psychological pressure by employers can lead to mental conditions such as extreme anxiety, depression, and suicide.
Japanese workers rarely stand up against their oppressive and abusive employers since the backlash could mean getting fired. An Ant Strikes Back tells the impressive and courageous journey of Nishimura, a young Japanese worker that decided to take a stand against his employer. The story begins in 2011 when Nishimura, graduated from system engineering, started working for “Busy Ant Moving Co.”, a well-known moving company in Japan. After working for some years moving furniture, he was promoted to the Sales Department. Quickly Nishimura became a top salesperson, working up to 392 hours per month (13-14 hours per day). One day (in 2015) he had an accident while driving the company’s car, and that’s when his problems started. Due to the company’s rules he was forced to pay for the repair of the car. Desperate and stressed out about the situation he decided to seek help from “Precariat Union”, an organization that fights for workers’ rights providing legal counseling. He decided to take the company to court.
What followed was pure hell for Nishimura, he was degraded from being a salesman to being the person that “shreds paper”, which brought breathing problems for him. A big sign was displayed at all branches and offices labeling him as a troublemaker and a person not to be trusted. Someone went so far as putting a sign near his working post labeling him as a North Korean and ordering him to go home. For three years Precariat Union handled his court case and held manifestations outside Nishimura’s office on his support. Despite all the pressure done by the company Nishimura was decided to continue the fight against them.
An Ant Strikes Back, is an excellent documentary that talks about poor working conditions and humiliating work environments. It was shocking to know that there aren’t strong laws to prevent such degrading treatment. Tokachi Tsuchiya, the director, does an excellent job in showing us firsthand the tribulations of Nishimura, along the documentary we become part of his fight and we wait for his victory. The interviews with ex-employees allow the audience to get a clear picture of how horrific and toxic the environment in the company was. In one of the union’s meetings the director let us know what his inspiration was to make such documentary. His best friend Yama-Chan succumbed to depression due to his work and later took his own life. An Ant Strikes Back, serves as a testimony and should encourage people and those in power to review working conditions that sometimes are overlooked in Japan’s hard working culture.
*The film is available Worldwide* – Ticket Price $6 USD / €5 Euros