The 1968 film "Kurobe no Taiyo" (The sun of Kurobe) recounts the drama of the construction of the Kurobe Dam in Toyama Prefecture, which at the time was considered the most challenging project of the century.

In one unforgettable scene, an enormous drill bores into a bedrock with a deafening screech. When all seems to be going well, the bedrock suddenly starts crumbling with a thunderous roar. Floodwaters demolish the tunnel and swallow up workers.

The cardinal rule of tunnel construction is to religiously repeat the process of "dig and reinforce." Construction methods and tools have evolved over time, from working with chisels and pickaxes during the Edo Period (1603-1867) to employing state-of-the-art hydraulic rock drills today. But the key to safe operation remains unchanged.

"Drill away rock-solid regulations" is a metaphor Prime Minister Shinzo Abe uses repeatedly to describe his commitment to deregulation, with respect to matters such as reforming the nation's agricultural cooperatives and allowing a university to newly establish a faculty of veterinary medicine.

At a Davos meeting of world leaders four years ago, Abe declared, "I am willing to act like a drill bit: strong enough to break through the solid rock of vested interests. No vested interests will remain immune from my drill."

Abe on Feb. 28 announced his decision to postpone the submission of a work style reform bill to the Diet.

We remain deeply worried that if the “discretionary working system” is expanded, more people will be forced to overwork themselves. And we are definitely not pleased with a research report that proved to contain more than 400 erroneous numbers.

"Listen to the bedrock" is a maxim in the tunnel construction industry. It means that workers must always be alert to changes in water pressure or ground pressure, subtle warning signs of which are given off by the rocks.

The film "Kurobe no Taiyo" was released just around now 50 years ago. The field supervisor of the dam project, played by Toshiro Mifune, says with emotion, "If a fatal accident occurs, the people who will grieve most deeply are the victims' bereaved families."

Protecting the lives of workers is the leader's duty. The last thing we need is a leader who fancies himself as a rock-smashing drill bit.

--The Asahi Shimbun, March 1

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.