Sakubei and the Mining of Japan

Zakka Films Presents

Sakubei and the Mining of Japan



*Educational streaming licenses are available at Alexander Street.

Sakubei Yamamoto (1892–1984) was a lifelong miner in the Chikuho coalfield in southern Japan. In his mid-60s, he began to paint a documentary record of work and daily life in and around the coal mines. In May 2011, 697 paintings and journals by this little-known miner were inscribed on the register of the UNESCO Memory of the World.

The paintings vividly depict the men and women who dig and haul coal in the dark, hot depths of the earth. These are the people who sustained the nation of Japan. Men wear only loincloths as they work their pickaxes, while women go shirtless as they drag heavy baskets of coal. Despite the burdensome labor, the men are strikingly virile, the women sensual.

Six years in production, the documentary filmed the paintings to the finest details. The accompanying texts convey the frank doubts and smoldering anger of workers from “the depths.” Members of Sakubei’s family, former miners, and others who were influenced by his work are interviewed. Among their stories, particularly moving are those of a 103-year old former female miner who survived in the midst of poverty and discrimination. Through the legacy Sakubei left behind, we mine the history and society of Japan to the present day.

  • Production Company: Office Kumagai
  • Language: Japanese
  • Subtitles: English
    Director: Hiroko Kumagai
    Photography: Hiroki Nakashima, Kiyoshi Fujie
    Editing: Tomiyo Ohashi
    Assistant Director: Kayano Doi, Yoshifumi Nagasawa
    Recitation: Yuko Aoki
    Narration: Yukio Yamakawa
  • Copyright:Office Kumagai
  • Streaming:  Alexander Street