Humming with the kinetic energy of Tokyo and featuring a rich, multi-dimensional score by James Iha, co-founder of the Smashing Pumpkins and A Perfect Circle,
SALARYMAN combines performance art and a punk documentary ethic to open our minds to the cost of overwork, ultimately revealing surprising ways salarymen, in every culture, can find escape and healing.
(づ ￣ ³￣)づ
After failing to secure a work visa in the United States and burned-out from long hours spent in a photo retouching job, artist and photographer Allegra Pacheco cobbles together some savings and leaves New York for Japan.
She finds herself in Tokyo, jarred by the intensity of the city and the drive of the people around her. Late at night, after the bars have shut down, Allegra notices men in suits littering the sidewalks and entryways of closed subway stations. Allegra asks about these men and is told that they are “Salarymen,” the average Japanese white-collar office worker that is expected to work long hours followed by drinking binges with the boss. Missing the last train back to the suburbs, they collapse on the street until it’s time to go back to work.
As Allegra investigates Japanese work culture further and learns of the harsh and exhausting realities Salarymen face, she devises a performance in which she outlines their passed out bodies mimicking a crime scene - drawing attention to something that has become curiously normal.
Selfless devotion to the group, a characteristic revered in Japanese culture, is gradually rendered through Allegra’s inquiry as an asset that corporations abuse to achieve productivity at the expense of health and family, leading, in the most tragic instances, to death from overwork.
Through verité documentation, interviews, and animation we follow Allegra’s journey, one that starts as a street art project and evolves into a deeper exploration of Japanese work culture, the role of women in this dynamic, and the effect on the families of Salarymen.
In light of the current pandemic, the concept of the workplace is being reassessed. Inadvertently, Allegra’s inquiry may have captured the end of an era. The long commute, the office peer pressure, the Salaryman sleeping on a sidewalk might become a rare scene in the near future.
Ultimately Salaryman makes the viewer grasp a more universal question:
What does work do to our life, to our families, to our soul? After five years of shooting this documentary, Allegra realizes that the fact that this film takes place in Japan might just be incidental because, in a way, we are all Salarymen.
Growing up in Costa Rica I always had felt I needed to escape the small town I lived in to make it as an artist. I moved to NY to be a photographer, but I ended up making a living in post production for fashion, retouching. Working in an office was the exact opposite of what I set out to do.
After a couple of years, my visa got denied and I was forced to leave New York. On a whim, I gathered all my savings and flew to Tokyo.
I was drawn to salarymen immediately. The way they moved through the city looked to me like an army of men in suits. I
was stunned when I learned it's frequent to see salarymen late at night sleeping on the sidewalk. When I first saw these men in suits just lying in the street, for a second, it looked like a murder scene. Like a corporate murder. Upon asking the locals, they shrugged it off and pointed to the fact people get drunk and miss the last train. Though this seemed like a sound enough explanation, I felt there was more to the story.
I thought it was really interesting that it was common. And that it was so common that nobody found it interesting.
Somehow, I saw something of myself in them that reminded me of my work in NY… But I couldn’t quite place it because we’re so different...
At that point, I was already documenting salarymen in my street photography but I decided to take my investigation further. I wanted to get to know them better. So I shifted my focus to interviews… and not just after work, but in their homes, and in their lives.
By combining my photography/art background, and taking a leap into the unknown territory of filmmaking, I wanted to paint a broader and deeper picture of salaryman life.I was obviously an outsider, but I was interested in what we had in common, especially how work had shaped our lives.
The first time I saw a salaryman lying on the street, I projected onto him all sorts of meanings.
As often happens with documentary film "the truth" is seldom a fixed conclusion, there are no concrete answers, and the investigation ultimately leads to a journey of self-discovery. Through documenting salarymen and pressing to understand their lived experience, I was able to find answers on a personal level. Learning from others, investigating our differences and similarities is rich territory for dialogue. Since we spend most of our lives working, understanding the nature of what and what it does to us and to our families, is an important place to start. If we are unhappy with these answers we can then ask ourselves how we are willing to enact change for the better.
We are all salarymen in one way or another – that’s the truth.
A valuable lesson I learned in making this film was that when things feel dark, when we start to lose ourselves along the way, there are exits all around us, we just have to look for them.
(づ ◕‿◕ )づ
SALARYMAN is a production of Legz Films. Directed by Allegra Pacheco. Cinematography by Eduardo Uribe and Allegra Pacheco. Edited by Luis Alvarez Y Alvarez. Original Music by James Iha. Executive Producers Josh Stanley and John Hawkes, Nadia Conners and Ross Clarke. Produced by Allegra Pacheco, Katie Taber, Luis Alvarez Y Alvarez and Michael Lustig.