Posted: 03/09/2005


Salaryman Kintaro: The Animated Series, Vol. 1

by Ben Beard

This DVD is available for purchase at

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Japan’s premier white-collar hero, Kintaro, struggles with class obstacles and his underworld past in this popular animated series.

Following Kintaro during his first days as a low level employee for Yamato construction, Salaryman details the strange life of the former gangster as he straddles his old life with the new. With a fierce dedication to his tasks, Kintaro operates with a Zen-like concentration, managing to solve everyone’s problems around him. Treating the business world as high drama—with intrigues, treachery, and out and out assault—Salaryman, like Horatio Hornblower or little Nicholas Nickleby, follows Kintaro’s slow rise up the corporate infrastructure, from disaffected youth to utter success.

Unfolding like a grand, Victorian-style drama loaded with kitsch, dozens of characters intertwine in the streets and suburbs of Tokyo. Each episode’s story—Kintaro’s first day at work, a night out drinking with his fellow employees, a train ride, a fishing trip—enlarges the ongoing storyline. The emphasis on small issues—one man’s moment of cowardice (a la Lord Jim), a teenage son’s estrangement from his father—reveals Salaryman as a feel-good melodrama with lots of heart.

The big mysteries: how did Kintaro get his job? Why, and when, did he change from a biker outlaw to a law-abiding citizen? And will he be able to curb his violent tendencies?

The oddball samurai code of business on display offers a reminder that only a thin line separates the criminal from the banker. In Salaryman, the heroes are stern, straightforward, and often cruel, while the villains are feeble, dishonest, or manipulating. In this pop paradigm, licentiousness breeds weakness. The leisure class has grown spineless. The middle class has atrophied. The free market Japan holds in such high regard only succeeds if big-hearted men, like Kintaro, take back the reigns from the meager and the small-minded.

Go capitalism!

Tennis, fishing, happy hour—here’s a cartoon peek into the lifestyles of the upper middle class. And ultimately, this is precisely what Salaryman is: a not so subtle meditation on class. Struggling to overcome educational and economic disparities, Kintaro continually defies expectations by doing the right thing.

Reminiscent of the eighties movies Quicksilver, Trading Places, or even a nicer Wall Street, replete with a trumped up synthesizer soundtrack, Salaryman delves into the daily lives of the ambitious, the evil, and the good. No, not subtle, and not great art either, but definitely fetching, enormous fun.

Silly, yes, but oddly mesmerizing.

Ben Beard is a film and music critic living in Chicago.

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