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Madhouse Production Assistant Says He Worked 393 Hours in One Month

posted on by Kim Morrissy
After being hospitalized due to overwork, assistant joined Black Company trade union.

On April 5, a Madhouse production assistant joined a trade union and commenced the process of collective bargaining. The anonymous assistant is seeking compensation for unpaid overtime, as well as an apology for the various forms of power harassment he received. Bungei Shunju Online published an interview with the assistant on Monday, which goes into further detail about the circumstances that led to him to take action.

The production assistant explained: "During crunch time, the most I worked was 393 hours a month." The Japanese government's proposed limit for overtime per month is 100 hours.

The assistant also spoke in detail about the circumstances that led to him being hospitalized due to overwork. "I was working on one of the later episodes of a series. The storyboards only got finished a month before the broadcast, so we had to compact a three-month production schedule into one month. During that time I would sleep at the studio for three days, only going home to have showers.

"It was around 7 in the morning when I was returning to my apartment one day when all the hunger, tiredness, and stress over all the things I had to do got to me and I collapsed on the road. A policeman who just happened to be cycling by called the ambulance for me. When I woke up, I was like, "Oh, overwork huh." I had some IV dripped into me, paid the 10,000 yen ambulance fee, and then went home just like that."

When the assistant called the studio to inform them of what happened, they told him to take a day off. But it was one week before the broadcast. The assistant went back to work the next day. However, he recalls that the animation director continued to ask for retakes right to the very end in order to meet quality standards. When the work was finally completed to a "bare minimum" standard at the cost of everyone's sleep, the higher ups assumed that everything was okay and nothing got addressed.

After that incident, the assistant was diagnosed with a psychogenic reaction. After two months of taking medication while working, the assistant recovered and joined the Black Company Union, a trade union formed in 2017 that offers consultation and support for workers across various industries..

The Mayo Clinic defines a psychogenic reaction, also called a functional neurologic disorder, as a disease that affects the nervous system "that can't be explained by a neurological disease or other medical condition. However, the symptoms are real and cause significant distress or problems functioning." A psychogenic reaction can cause a person to be unable to walk, swallow, see, or hear. The reaction can vary in severity but cannot be controlled by the affected person.

In the meantime, the assistant has racked up three million yen (US$26,800) worth of unpaid overtime. According to youth labor rights activist Shōhei Sakakura, Madhouse has a flat rate for overtime past 50 hours. "If you work over 50 hours, you won't get any extra money for it. However, this wasn't explained at all to the worker before he joined the company. After doing the math, we believe he has accrued three million yen worth of unpaid overtime."

The assistant said that his situation is not limited to people who work at Madhouse. "Production assistants, especially when working on a TV series, tend to work over 100-200 hours a month. At the subcontracting studios, they don't even have a time card for people to log their hours."

The assistant said that by coming forward, he worries that he's lost his chance to ever be promoted. However, he feels that his actions were necessary. In 2010, a production assistant working for A-1 Pictures died by suicide. The Shinjuku Labor Standards Inspection Office cited depression due to overwork as the cause of the staff member's suicide. The Madhouse production assistant said that he wishes to prevent further tragedies of that kind from happening.

"People have been asking me if I'm trying to destroy Madhouse, but that's not what I want to do. I just want working conditions to improve."

The animation studio Madhouse was founded in 1972 by ex-Mushi Pro animators, including Masao Maruyama, Osamu Dezaki, Rintaro and Yoshiaki Kawajiri. Maruyama left the company in 2011 to form MAPPA. Madhouse is well known for its productions on Cardcaptor Sakura, Death Note, and and the first season of One-Punch Man.

Source: Bungei Shunju Online

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