- It is very common for Japanese salarymen to work such long hours that they rarely spend time with their wives and children. Especially after the birth of their first child, couples often live fairly independent lives in which the man works and provides for his family, while the wife dedicates herself to the kids and socializes with other Japanese housewives enjoying things like tea ceremonies or visit to museums and art galleries. Japanese women also shop for expensive designer goods.
- Japanese companies typically hire fresh graduates often ignoring their university education and then retraining them for tasks within the organization. By constantly training them and assigning tasks to them over time as needed, the employees may not have many skills that can be used outside the organization, but that was not an issue as long as there was lifetime employment.
- Outsourcing and stagnant economy has affected the employment situation in Japan with many young people not being able to find full time work and middle aged executives being laid off. Since there is no secondary job market in Japan, most of these men never find corporate jobs and end up doing meaningless tasks, as also shown in the Departures movie.
- Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world and there is no taboo against it.
- Japanese men derive their authority and self esteem from the job that they hold and feel rootless without a respectable job.
- Japanese society places special emphasis on wa or harmony at all times. That means no one tries to upset the order that provides stability.
- Japanese people are very discreet not only in professional settings but also in family and marriage. Thus, a wife would never ask any intrusive questions about her husband’s life in general, but almost never about his work and time that he may spend on his own.
Now that you have some context about this really complex society, this film highlights what happens to the Sasaki family that includes Ryuhei (Teruyuki Kagawa), Megumi (Kyoko Koizumi), Kenji (Kai Inowaki), and Takashi (Yu Koyanagi). After his job is shipped to Dalian in China, Ryuhei is without a job, but instead of dealing with unemployment by discussing it with his family, making personal finance decisions, and evaluating career options, like so many other laid off workers in Japan, he hangs out at libraries and cafes killing time in the hope that his severance package will provide him with enough time to find another similar job. However, he is unable to find any job other than minimum wage jobs, because he is not even able to articulate his skills to interviewers. He was simply not prepared for this moment because he became a director of administration of his company by riding up the corporate ladder, doing what he was told to do but never really worrying about mastering any solid work skills.
Since he was always an absentee father and so occupied with his work that he had no relationship with his wife, the family starts to fall apart. Kenji, the younger kid, is not allowed to take piano lessons, but is never told why. Takashi, the older son, decides to join the American troops in the Middle East as part of the Japanese contingent. A series of events then make each one realize that they need to come together and start all over again. While I was afraid that the movie might have a tragic end (one of Ryuhei’s unemployed friend commits suicide after killing his wife), it actually has a happy ending with Ryuhei finding happiness in his job as a janitor and paying more attention to his family.
Strongly recommended if you are a fan of Japanese films and enjoy cinema by Kiyoshi Kurosawa.