'Campaign' at the DocYard on 20 February

by Cynthia Fuchs

20 February 2012

Perceptive and precise, the documentary will make you think again about the points of political campaigns, in Japan and elsewhere.
 

“Please excuse the bother,” says Yamauchi Kazuhiko. As he stands in a train station in Kawasaki, Japan, passengers make their ways past him, most not even looking at him—that is, not looking bothered at all. “Welcome home after a hard day’s work,” he keeps on, “We can change politics through elections.” This as the camera pulls out, the wider shot showing the candidate, “from Liberal Democratic Party LDP of Prime Minister Koizumi,” as he explains, looking very small and very alone. A “parachute candidate,” brought in by the party to run for city council, Kazuhiko pitches himself as a good team player, with his wife Sayuri dutifully by his side. Their 2006 campaign is the focus of Kazuhiro Soda’s superb documentary, Campaign, which is screening at the DocYard in Boston on 20 February, followed by a Q&A with Soda. (The film is also available for viewing online at POV until 29 July 2012.)

  
While the party’s local team makes phone calls and arranges photo ops, the Yamauchis learn proper campaign etiquette (“The most important thing is to repeat my name, people don’t listen to details”), travels from one campaign stop to another (“Senior citizens enjoy sports,” Kazuhiko hears, just before he joins in a calisthenics class), and sleep on blankets on the floor of their new apartment. All this as the camera walks along behind the candidate, observes him with joking with friends or catering to elders, perches in the back seat of the Yamauchis’ car as they ponder what’s happening to them. Kazuhiko does what he’s told (“Make sure you keep bowing even if it’s to a telephone pole”) and Sayuri has doubts (“We’re trying to represent the interest of the younger generation, it’s backwards for them to tell me to quit my job”), their exhaustion and tensions revealed in shrewd compositions and smart cuts. As the campaign looks increasingly nonsensical, as staged events and solicitations look antic or desperate, the film calls to mind other, very current (say, US) campaigns as well. Perceptive and precise, the documentary will make you think again about the points of political campaigns, in Japan and elsewhere.

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