October 27, 2014


Kyoko Miyake

Brakeless asks what led the driver of a Japanese commuter train to accelerate perilously, causing a deadly crash?


About the Documentary

Brakeless is a cautionary tale of what happens when punctuality, protocol, and efficiency are taken to the extreme.

On Monday, April 25th 2005, a West Japan Railway (West JR) commuter train crashed into an apartment building and killed 107 people when a driver tried to catch up with an 80-second delay. Just what pressures made the driver risk so much for such a minimal delay? Was this accident simply the result of human or mechanical failure, or the failure of society in a larger sense?

Piecing together personal accounts of those affected by the train crash, Brakeless poses a question for a culture that equates speed with progress. It examines the way in which the characteristics that are usually considered national virtues may have become more of a danger to the people of Japan.

The film revisits the train journey, in part through the use of animation, and follows the aftermath through the eyes of the survivors. The crash is examined in light of the historical and economic development in post-war Japan, a country that rose from the ashes to become a smash economic success worldwide.

But its rapid modernization may have come with a price, and Brakeless shows the side effects of privatization and the phenomena coined as the “Japanese disease” by writer Kunio Yanagida, who argues that the train wreck epitomizes an economic malaise he observes has been happening widely in post-bubble Japan.

Director Kyoko Miyake’s film shows how the impact of this disaster sent shock waves that still resonate years later.

The Filmmakers

Kyoko Miyake

Miyake’s first feature-length documentary, My Atomic Aunt (a.k.a. Beyond the Wave / Meine Tante aus Fukushima) was supported by 7 broadcasters and numerous grants including BBC, NHK, WDR, and Sundance and has been screened and broadcast in many countries. Brakeless is her second film, and was a co-production with BBC Storyville, ITVS, NHK, IKON, and DR. Several short documentaries Miyake directed have been shown at festivals internationally including Berlin, London, Sydney, and SilverDocs. Hackney Lullabies won the Berlin Today Award 2011 at the Berlin Film Festival. Mrs. Birks’ Sunday Roast, commissioned through Film London, has been added to the British Film Institute’s National Archive collection, and enjoyed a successful 2-week run at the IFC Center New York in summer 2011. Miyake has been selected for the prestigious Berlinale Talent Campus, Japanese government’s Art Grant, Talent Campus Tokyo, Crossing Borders, and Pola Art Foundation Grant.

Full Credits


  • 2014 George Foster Peabody Awards

    Peabody Award Winner

Learn more about the documentary

Join the Discussion

Have you ever been a part of a shared national disaster? Can you relate to the Japanese train driver’s fearful situation in your own job? Do American cultural attitudes also sometimes lead to unsafe practices in the workplaces?