“Salaryman," is an exploration into the lives of Japanese businessmen in Tokyo in an unconventional documentary format, which blends traditional film-making, photography and performance art.
The director Allegra Pacheco talks with us about her views, thoughts, observations, and experiences towards the interesting lives of these so-called men in suits.
What is the project about?
This project touches upon aspects of the Japanese work culture that expand into global practices, but also focuses on problems specific to Japan such as Karoshi (death from overwork) and it's consequences and socio-cultural origins.
How long have you been working on this project? Tell us what is the main reason behind doing this documentary, and what made you focus on this issue?
Salaryman started as an art project. It was a very organic process, as it wasn't only until about 5 years later after I first started photographing salarymen in the street that I decided to make a documentary.
It all started because I found the patterns in salarymen's behavior very interesting. The binge-drinking/sleeping in the street was the most extreme of those behaviors, and therefore that is the one that initially struck me the most. It provoked an investigation on my end that ultimately tried to answer what is the root cause of their behavior.
What started out as a mix between a photographic essay and performance piece later turned into a documentary, as I started interviewing more and more salarymen, and other professionals I thought were relevant in understanding their character (such as sociologists, Karoshi experts, linguists, and more).
Were there any difficulties that you have experienced while filming the documentary?
The most difficult thing was perhaps getting people to openly criticize their companies on tape. In many cases we would have untaped conversations with people who would tell us horror stories, but that would then decide against being filmed.
Our documentary didn't happen in a traditional way. I was there (in Tokyo) to document my Salaryman Hunt performance piece. It wasn't until after having filmed a couple of interviews to complement it that I decided to just go for it and make a film.
Naturally because of this there were many obstacles. Every day presented a new problem, but every day we somehow tackled them and carried on.
Our inexperience was a blessing in a way, as we didn't have any do's and don't pre-established in our minds, which allowed for a lot of experimentation and fun to happen, and we were honestly clueless to how difficult making a film would be, so we were never really overwhelmed with looming problems of what came next. As I said, it all happened naturally.
What is your most favorite scene/ photo in this whole project?
My favorite scene is a very funny and awkward 40 second shot of a drunk salaryman, and what looked like his assistant making out graphicly in the streets of Shimbashi on a Friday night. Nothing really happens other than two consenting adults kissing, but I thought it illustrated very well how typically private people can really let loose outside of their regular work environment.
It reminded me of being half grossed out/half embarrassed whenever I would see adults be affectionate towards each other when I was a kid.
What is the craziest photo you took of a Salaryman?
I’m not sure I have a craziest, but taking photos of drunk strangers I'd just outlined, at just a few centimeters away might be perceived as crazy.
How do you feel about releasing this project? Do you think it will have a positive impact in this “Salaryman” culture?
I am sure there will be mixed reviews, but ultimately my aim is to present a transparent and accurate portrait of salarymen through a series of interviews. Some will reflect ugly realities, while others will be surprisingly revelatory in positive ways.
I hope that it will help give a voice to those that haven't felt they have a platform to speak up. I hope this film will bring those people to understand that they are not alone in the frustrations of unhealthy work-cycles.