It’s a standard plot in Japanese gangster movies: The hero vows to go straight upon getting out of prison, but circumstances, usually involving fists, knives or guns, intervene. He ends up back in the world he tried to escape, with another prison sentence looming.

As romanticized as this scenario may be, it reflects a grim reality. In Japan, former prisoners face high barriers to normal lives, with the “ex-con” stigma following them wherever they go. Not surprisingly, 50% of former prisoners reoffend within five years. By comparison, in Europe, the recidivism rate ranges from about 30% to as low as 20% in Norway.

Atsushi Funahashi’s “The Burden of the Past,” a docudrama grounded in the director’s own research, addresses this problem with informed, unvarnished realism. Now playing at Tokyo’s PorePore Higashinakano and other cinemas in Japan, with English subtitles at all screenings, the film focuses on the editorial team of a magazine that supports former prisoners in finding jobs and reentering society.