Japan seems like the perfect place for Filipinos who want to leave their country to find work. It’s a first-world country, it’s only a four-hour flight from their homeland – and it’s the home of karaoke, the perfect recreational activity for people from such a musical culture.
Yet, Japan only attracted three per cent of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) last year, according to the Philippines Statistics Authority. Compare that with the UAE on 15 per cent, and Saudi Arabia, the top destination, which hosts more than 25 per cent of OFWs. Yet, this was not always the case.
Director Lawrence Fajardo’s film Imbisibol (Invisible), which had its international debut at the Toronto Film Festival yesterday, tells the stories of four OFWs living in the city of Fukuoka in the aftermath of a 1989 Japanese crackdown on overstayers – workers who remain in the country after their work contracts expire.
“That’s why we chose the title,” says producer Krisma Fajardo, who is also Lawrence’s wife. “They’re not supposed to be in Japan. Legally they’re not there. And then they’re also not in the Philippines, physically, so it’s like they’re invisible. These people tend to lay low and not attract attention.”
Benjie – played by Bernardo Bernardo, a star of the Filipino sitcom Home Along da Riles – wears a face mask as he sweeps up rubbish at a factory during the day. At night, he washes dishes at a bar. The work schedule is tiring as he nears retirement age and he nods off often to compensate.