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  • Brakeless examines whether Japanese society’s pursuit of efficiency at all costs caused a deadly train crash.

    Brakeless examines whether Japanese society’s pursuit of efficiency at all costs caused a deadly train crash.

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  • West Japan Railways Train 5418M crashed into an apartment building, killing 107 people.

    West Japan Railways Train 5418M crashed into an apartment building, killing 107 people.

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  • A West Japan Railways employee undergoes driver training.

    A West Japan Railways employee undergoes driver training.

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  • Hiroshi Ueda mourns his son, who died in the crash of West Japan Railways Train 5418M.

    Hiroshi Ueda mourns his son, who died in the crash of West Japan Railways Train 5418M.

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  • Overcrowded commuter trains are a common sight in Japan.

    Overcrowded commuter trains are a common sight in Japan.

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  • Survivor Satoshi Ogura reflects on his painting of the crash of West Japan Railways Train 5418M.

    Survivor Satoshi Ogura reflects on his painting of the crash of West Japan Railways Train 5418M.

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  • Illustrator with model

    Illustrator with model

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  • Crash and emergency services

    Crash and emergency services

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  • Train and building

    Train and building

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The Film

On Monday April 25th 2005, a West Japan Railway (West JR) commuter train crashed into an apartment building and killed 107 people when a driver tried to catch up with an 80-second delay. Just what pressures made the driver risk so much for such a minimal delay?

Piecing together personal accounts of those affected by the train crash, Brakeless poses a question for a society that equates speed with progress. It examines the way in which the characteristics that are usually considered the national virtues — punctuality and loyalty to protocol — have become societal impediments and ultimately, dangers to the people of Japan.

The film revisits the train journey and follows the aftermath through the eyes of the survivors. What happened on the day is examined in light of the historical and economic development in post-war Japan. It is a story about modernization gone too far and a cautionary tale about privatization and the phenomena coined as the “Japanese disease” by writer Kunio Yanagida, who argues that the train crash epitomizes this malaise that he observes widely in post-bubble Japan.

Brakeless offers a fascinating insight into the railway’s role in Japan’s post-war economic boom – and the dangers of corner cutting in the prolonged economic stagnation that followed. Through the lens of this catastrophic train crash, the film considers the ultimate cost efficiency.

The Filmmaker

  1. Kyoko MiyakeDirector