One morning in 2002, a 24-year old Japanese man named Naoki went to work just like any other day. That evening, he hopped on a ferry and hasn't been seen or heard from by his loved ones to this day. Shockingly, Naoki's story is not unusual. Almost 85,000 Japanese men and women were reported missing in 2017 alone. Most of them are found or return. The remainder is referred to as the johatsu - or evaporated people - because they disappear from their established lives by choice. This documentary of the same name examines the reasons why someone might engineer their own disappearance, and the wreckage of unanswered questions they leave behind.
Through an interview with a prominent missing persons investigator in the region, we learn that many of these cases do not involve foul play, and the motivations behind some of the disappearances are often baffling and seemingly unmotivated.
But there's also an element to many of these vanishings that are indicative of a larger phenomenon. An underground industry specializes in "night moving", a process that acts as a kind of consumer witness protection program. When people want to flee creditors, troubled family lives, or simply want a fresh start, they call upon these companies to orchestrate their escapes. Cameras follow one such business owner as they travel to a clandestine meeting in Tokyo with a potential client. Over the course of 17 years, this business has helped over 1500 people disappear.
In addition to the grief stricken family members who have been left behind, the filmmakers spend time with one of the "vanished". With his distinguishing facial features blurred from view, he reconstructs his reasons for abandoning his wife and children, and explains how he sustains himself in his newly created life.
In the midst of these individual stories and profiles, a larger narrative begins to take shape. Evaporated People is not only the tale of modern-day Japan, but about the global society at large. What are the conditions that make us yearn for a complete reset of our lives? How do you maintain individuality in such a stressful and shallow culture?