YIDFF 2019 Perspectives Japan
An Ant Strikes Back
An Interview with Tsuchiya Tokachi (Director)

Supporting Workers Through Film

Q: Could you tell us how you met the main character Mr. Nishimura and how you came to film him?

TT: I met Mr. Nishimura when I was in charge of filming at a press conference. The notice with the reason he was fired, titled CRIME with his full name and photo, had been posted in all their stores. His lawyer had filed an injunction against the company, so he returned to work as a shredder. They’d put up posters with discriminatory language all over the company. Shocking that a company could be so cruel. The moment when I thought “I have to make a movie about this” was when, after Mr. Nishimura’s mother passed away, a letter denouncing him was sent to his family home. I felt strongly that I had to support him. So I made the film not for the sake of a movie or for news coverage, but because I wanted to continue to support him.

Q: I felt the sincerity in how you showed many angles, not just the labor struggle process but also including yourself and your friend “Yama-chan.” How did you come to use that structure?

TT: The Yama-chan problem was a serious one. As he went downhill, my hands wouldn’t move and my thoughts froze. He kept telling me to film so why didn’t I film? Of course, I had my reasons not to film, but I really struggled. He had been harassed at work and joined a union at my office, but if I had reached out to him more, things might have been different. It’s terrible, for a friend to die. I call myself a film director but really I’m a guy who couldn’t save his friend. A lot of people involved said I shouldn’t include the Yama-chan scenes. So I continued to struggle with it, but I worried that audiences would think this was just a film about fighting the company, then reaching a settlement, and that’s it. With so many people who will die young of overwork, I wanted people to think about their own workplaces. I wanted to reach those people suffering now, who are considering death, as well as their family and friends. So I included these sections because I thought showing my own weakness would convey that better than just showing the strength of the labor union and the main character. I made the film thinking, if I can help those people, those lives, even just a little, then this film would have meaning.

Q: Why do you think he decided to fight the company when he could have quit instead?

TT: I think, in his heart, he simply had no desire to quit and he wanted to continue working. His face when he returned to work was so great. Of course he could have just quit but that would have meant leaving the working environment like it was for the people who came to work after him. He had been in a management position before so he had been on the side telling the lower level workers to pay their own accident compensation. Now from the other side, he always said, “I want to make a difference,” and “If I can’t change things, there’s no reason to quit.” At first he also felt like he wanted someone to save him. But by joining the labor union, he met people who had been in similar terrible situations. I think he gradually came to realize this wasn’t a problem with just his own workplace. There are workplaces like this throughout Japan, throughout the world, and those workplaces will somehow change and can be changed. This is what he wanted people to know.

(Compiled by Morisaki Hana)

Interviewers: Morisaki Hana, Sato Hiroaki / Translator: Caitlin Casiello
Photography: Wei Zhao-Yi / Video: Kato Takanobu / 2019-10-05 in Tokyo