A rare and unnerving portrait of Japan’s ‘death by overwork’ culture
In the late hours of the evening, across the neon-lit streets of Tokyo and Osaka, it is not uncommon to discover starch-suited businessmen asleep in doorways or slumped, comatose on park benches. With as much as a quarter of Japan’s wage-earning population working more than 80 hours of unpaid overtime per month, people dying from stress and exhaustion has become a grim consequence of Japan’s work culture.
“This film opens a universal conversation about how much of our lives we owe to work”
“In Japan, people die typing on their computers in their offices because of overwork,” say the fraternal director duo Juan and Arturo Herrero, who captured the phenomenon on film. “They have a word for it: Karōshi. It literally means death from overwork.”
Suicides, heart attacks and overdoses have become an all-too-familiar end for eager, young graduates wanting to make a good impression or beleaguered workers trying to hold on to their jobs. “The film reveals a problem that feels like a distant, blurred dream,” say the directors, “But the reality is a nightmare of pandemic proportions.”
The terms ‘burnout’ in English and ‘Gwarosa’ in South Korea attest to the unjustifiable occupational mortality rate of white-collar jobs, showcasing Karōshi as part of a global problem. “This film starts a universal conversation about how much of our lives we owe to work,” say the brothers. “How far would we go to earn money? Karōshi is a manifesto, an urge to reflect on how we have come to normalize such incredible work behaviors. Right now we are at a historical crossroads, with plenty of time to contemplate and the precious opportunity to shift gears and move forward in a different way.”
Text by Gavin Humphries.
Karōshi film premiered on NOWNESS PICKS.
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