A documentary that highlights Japanese single mothers living in poverty

A documentary that highlights Japanese single mothers living in poverty

TOKYO >> Women work hard, sleeping only a few hours a night, as they juggle the demands of caring for their children and doing household chores — all while struggling with poverty.

The award-winning independent documentary The People Left Behind, released last year, tells the story of these single mothers in Japan, brings together interviews with women and experts, and shows the other side of the ideal culture for women. To get married and become housewives and mothers at home.

“This is a topic that no one really wants to touch on. In Japan, it’s very taboo,” Australian director Reon McAvoy said Tuesday. “I think it’s a very appropriate title because I feel like single mothers and their children have been really neglected in society.”

One of the women in the film says she works from 8:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., while earning less than 200,000 yen ($1,350) a month.

“I have to do everything myself,” says Tomiko Nakayama, another woman in the film.

Despite being one of the world’s richest countries, Japan has one of the highest rates of child poverty among OECD countries, with one in seven children living in poverty. About half of single-parent families live below the poverty line.

Japanese society also tends to favor full-time male workers, and women often receive lower wages and fewer benefits, even when they work full-time or overtime.

Another woman in the film is on the verge of tears as she describes how her child stopped asking her about the days you took your parents to school. She knew that her mother was very busy and could not come.

McAvoy’s wife, Aiori, who produced the film, was previously a single mother. But both deny that this is why Rion McAvoy directed the film. Initially, she was not interested in participating in filmmaking.

What makes the story so Japanese, according to Rion McAvoy, is how the country’s conformist culture makes many women accept their difficulties, be ashamed to ask for help, and “keep their public face and private face separate,” he told The Associated Press. .

“The Ones Left Behind” won the Best Documentary Award at the Miyakojima International Charity Film Festival last year, and was also an official selection at the Yokohama International Film Festival.

Akihiko Kato, a professor at Meiji University who appears in the film, said that despite repeated promises by the Japanese government to provide financial assistance to people with children, work has been slow.

This is one of the reasons why the birth rate in Japan has collapsed from 1.2 million births in 2000 to less than 700,000 today. Japan also lacks a system that can force parents to pay child support, according to Kato.

In the past, grandparents, neighbors and other extended family members would help care for children. In the modern era of the nuclear family, a single-parent family is often alone.

What this means for children is worrying, said Yanfei Zhu, a social sciences professor at Japan Women’s University who appears in the film. She said the gap between the haves and have-nots is widening, and children are destined to inherit the cycle of poverty.

The story of the underclass, including those forgotten and without a voice, has long fascinated McAvoy. His next film will be about young people who were driven to suicide in Japan. He said being an outsider allows him to tell stories from a fresh perspective and without bias.

“It’s one thing we can do more of in the community: trying to recognize people’s cries for help,” McAvoy said.

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