This extraordinary documentary is an unflinching record of the workers’ struggle during Japan’s economic rebirth in the 1980s, centered on Tokyo’s Sanya “yoseba”—a slum community dating from the 19th century where day laborers lived in terrible conditions while they sought work. Conceived of as a weapon in the workers’ struggle, Yama exposed the role of the yakuza, the Japanese elite, and corporations participating in the violent and systematic exploitation of the labor class amidst the construction boom of the time. Unresolved issues around labor rights, class discrimination, corruption, foreign workers’ rights, police violence and the stench of re-emergent fascism all rear their ugly heads in this powerful chronicle made at tremendous risk by the filmmakers. Indeed, the film begins with the aftermath of the fatal stabbing of the film’s original director, Mitsuo Sato, by a member of a right-wing imperialist yakuza clan on December 22, 1984. The film was completed by a collective, headed by director Kyoichi Yamaoka, who himself was also murdered soon after its completion. Still as relevant as ever, Yama is a vital record of a still unresolved chapter of postwar Japanese history that sheds light on the dark underbelly of labor and power relations under capitalism. – Adapted from Berlinale 2018 note
Appeal to the workers of Sanya, by Mitsuo Sato (excerpt):
It will take two years to complete this film. During that period we will stay in the yoseba, making a living from day labour as you do. It is not our intention to film you with an irresponsible attitude. Even a moviemaker like me has such a sense of shame that I will try not to make a big speech as to why we will make this film, but I will tell you about some of my personal concerns for it. By involving myself with this project, I want to wash off all the dirt I have accumulated on myself as a moviemaker for the past fifteen years and then hopefully be born again. At the same time, however, I feel it a little shameful to only make the film and not to fight directly with the cops and right-wing mobsters. We are, after all, strangers and eyesores to you: nonetheless, our retreating as moviemakers from the front line of Sanya amounts to a defeat for both you and us, especially after we declared that we would shoot the reality of the yoseba. If, by reserving ourselves too much, we fail to make friends with you, the film itself will become weak and poor. It is therefore essential for us to be frank and open-minded with you so that you will understand us. I find it inevitable that some troubles will arise between you and us while making the film: in those cases we would like to solve them by discussing them one by one with you.
We are in a hard situation, not having enough money, enough material, enough staff; yet we believe our efforts will be rewarded someday.
The film definitely differs in character from those produced by the bourgeois mass media – which we accuse of being the accomplice of the capitalists—in that this documentary is to be used to stop them from messing around with us.