Produced at the height of Japan’s economic boom of the 1980’s, Yama documents the struggles of unionised day-labourers in the San’ya district of Tokyo, on the frontlines of a violent class war. It is a film for the workers, intended to function as a weapon in their struggle – one that cost director Sato his life. On 22 December 22 1985, during filming, he was murdered by Yakuza gangsters whom Sato intended to expose for their criminal involvement in the restructuring of the job market. A collective of directors headed by Kyoichi Yamaoka finished the film, before Yamaoka, too, was later murdered.
The dramatic circumstances of the production reflect the explosive nature of the subject: exposing the corruption at the heart of the state, and the brutal exploitation of the types of people Marx called the “reserve army of labour”: day workers, outcasts, the unemployed, foreigners.