Poor Working Environment Causing Crisis in Japan’s Film Industry

Production staff involved in making Japanese films have been forced to work long hours at low wages, an issue left unaddressed for many years. The film industry must come together to urgently reform the working environment at production worksites.

In April, a certification system was launched to examine whether Japanese film production worksites were creating movies under appropriate working environments by introducing guidelines on such elements as filming hours and break times.

The newly established organization for promoting fair film production is in charge of the inspections, and films judged to be produced through appropriate means will be given its “Eiteki” mark. Major film studios, production companies and worker organizations have joined together at the same table to launch the system.

If poor working conditions are left unchecked, the labor shortage will become a permanent problem and the remaining staff will be forced to bear an even greater burden. It will also be inevitable for the quality of productions to deteriorate and the passing down of skills and techniques from veterans to the younger generation to stall.

The latest move is a sign that the entire industry shares the sense of crisis that the film industry may be in decline.

The root of the problem is probably the employment environment and customs particular to the Japanese film industry. The majority of film crews, including cinematographers and gaffers, are not employees of film companies but work in the productions from a weak position on a freelance basis.

According to a survey conducted by the Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry in 2019, more than 60% of freelance workers had film production-related income of less than ¥3 million per year. More than 60% of them said they had not received any written freelance job orders or contracts.

Just hearing about working conditions orally makes it difficult for workers to protest if they are forced to work unreasonably long hours. It is also difficult to receive compensation without contracts if filming is canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic or other reasons.

In some respects, filming of movies is often affected by weather conditions, so it is unavoidable that staff have to work longer hours. Nevertheless, it is clear that the system of relying solely on the enthusiasm of movie-loving staff to maintain production has come to its limits.

The newly created guidelines require production companies to issue contracts and other documents, set a maximum daily limit of 13 hours for filming and working hours, and include the provision of a full rest day once every two weeks.

Earning the Eiteki mark, however, is not a requirement for theatrical release. At present, there are only four staff members at the organization in charge of inspections, so it is difficult to say that the organization is sufficiently staffed to keep an eye on film production worksites.

It is important that each and every one of the people involved in the film industry take this opportunity to raise awareness of the need to improve the working environment, and to make efforts to comply with and expand the guidelines.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 8, 2023)