Mark Nornes amnornes at
Tue Jun 12 14:52:00 EDT 2007

I saw this film the other day. I was looking forward to it, as it  
follows the candidate for a local election in Kawasaki and I thought  
I could finally figure out something about Japanese electoral  
politics. A few things struck me, about its presentation of grass  
roots level political life and about the film itself and the way it  
sits inside its genre.

On the political end of things, you have a very curious situation.  
The district in question has an open seat, and the LDP couldn't find  
anyone to run. The reason? This is "entry level" politics, so they  
force the candidate to front the bills. They are essentially paying  
their way into party politics. So the candidate the LDP puts up comes  
from Tokyo. He knows nothing about the local area. Knows no one. He  
appears to be a stamp otaku that made enough money to rent a small  
apartment another space for an office, and then all the accouterments  
of electioneering (neon jackets for the staff, a van with a big  
loudspeaker, a bullhorn and sign, etc.

The guy's out there doing what politicians do: adding to urban  
Japan's usual cacophony of sound. No one listening. He gets visits  
from various LDP figures up the hierarchy, most of whom do their best  
to remind him he's at the bottom rung and he better not forget it.  
One great scene shows the arrival of Koizumi. He mounts the top of a  
van with several other senior politicians running in the Kawasaki  
area. But our little hero is forced to participate from the inside of  
the bus. They had even intended to take down his banner, but that was  
a detail that slipped through. When one of his mentors gives him a  
hard time, he says, "At least my banner was up there."  The stuffy  
old guy responds, "Yeah, we forgot about that." Clearly regretting  
the miss.

It's rough to be at the bottom.

So our hero goes around the blocks screaming on loudspeakers and  
shaking everyone's hands. The local business people tell him what  
they expect out of him ("You better fix this street drain!"). Nado  
nado nado.  What is ultimately striking is that his opposition  
includes a veteran woman politician from another party. She's lived  
in this district for 30 years and has vast experience with childcare  
problems, a major issue in the campaign. The main character of the  
film is an outsider buying his way in, has the seal of approval from  
the LDP, no kids (everyone gives he and his wife very public grief  
about that), and doesn't seem to know much about anything.

But he wins.  Fascinating.

Now as for the film, what was curious was that it was so utterly  
lacking in drama. Soda shot the film in a direct cinema style. He  
doesn't intervene, even with intertitles. This places it in a long  
tradition of direct cinema films on elections: Primary, TVTV's Four  
More Years, Feed, etc. etc. etc.  Most of these have some sort of  
dramatic arc to them, the "crisis structure" as it's often called in  
documentary studies. But this one didn't at all. There is no drama.  
Now this crisis structure is just that: structure. It's an artificial  
arrangement that comes out of editing. At the same time, elections by  
nature are very dramatic. And the stakes are so often so high. But I  
sensed that the lack of drama, tension, or any kind of suspense  
actually had to do with the nature of the political process we saw  
unfold. The candidates did not interact. They didn't really talk   
about the other candidates, or strategize against them in any way. He  
had de facto support from the LDP, but they were essentially  
disinterested in his candidacy.  One is really left with the  
impression that he simply had to spend his hard-earned cash to go  
through the motions and line up the votes of the community members  
that always vote for the party.

If you have a chance, this film's worth a gander.


On Jun 10, 2007, at 9:19 PM, Mark D. Roberts wrote:

> To add to the list of Tokyo film events...
> Kazuhiro Soda's documentary "Campaign" is now showing at the Image  
> Forum in Shibuya, with English subtitles for the 7:30 PM screening.

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