Last night, I saw a documentary movie, Campaign 2 by Soda Kazuhiro, and it was in many ways remarkable. First of all it was very funny. It owes a lot to the main subject, Yama san’s down to earth, understated yet dry sense of humor.
Yama san is a 46 year old man with a rather unusual history. After failing to get into the most prestigious University in Japan, the Tokyo University, 5 times, he manages to get in. This is where he meets the director of the movie Soda Kazuhiro. Soda describes him as a bohemian sort of man who he only saw at parties but never in the class rooms. As a result, he spends a few extra years to graduate. One thing we must understand is that being a graduate of the Tokyo University promises one a special social standing. Many intellectuals and bureaucrats are graduates of the institution. This peculiarity leads to his next spectacular event of becoming a city council man backed by the giant political party, LDP, which has reigned the post WWII Japan. The LDP has been covertly supported by the US ensuring its strategic role in Asia economically and militarily which of course include the nuclear polity of Japan. It represents the traditional values of the post war Japan, the consumerism and the corporatism. Soda describes his candidacy basically as a puppet of LDP faithfully following the guidelines of the machine in his campaign. This unusual event becomes Soda’s successful movie Campaign, which precedes the current film.
However, in Campaign 2, Yama san appears as an angry man–although he is always smily and likable–who is disillusioned by the corruption, the nation’s inability to deal with the nuclear accidents, the political structure which makes the meaningful political process impossible and so on. He is no longer backed by LDP. He runs as an independent candidate with 100000 Yen out of his pocket. It poignantly depicts the ridiculousness of being rational in a society where logic and humanity have ceased to be the measures of the social fabric. Yama san narrates the movie in humorously self-deprecating way, pointing out the surreal fact that the air people breath contains twice as much radio active materials as pre-Fukushima, pointing out people’s striking avoidance about the fact, pointing out the inevitable victory of the LDP candidates, pointing out the hands-on, DIY aspects of his political campaign which basically consists of himself, his wife and their sweet 3 year old boy and so on. We enter into a bizarre structure of an equilibrium where micro-managed corporate will meets bursting energy of humanity.
Soda’s shooting and editing style are also remarkable . With a very limited notice by Yama san, Soda who was in Hong Kong at the time, flies to Japan, purchases equipments and singlehandedly follows him with his camera. The movie is long (150min.) but it goes quite fast with the sense of immediacy. As Soda himself explains he does not follow a script. He dives into the scene, starts shooting without a preconceived notion, and the result is the streams of spontaneous moments letting the story flow with pleasant, often very funny accidents. But he does capture the essence of our time beautifully, yet brutally, without compromise. We see many touching moments in the interactions of the people who happen to appear in the movie. We see a chilling portrait of the machine in the interaction between the director and one of the LDP candidates.
The movie certainly shows the peculiarity of the Japanese society. However, we can easily see a parallel in any society where sheer power of money and violence overpowers the basic humanistic values: where the democratic values only exist so long as they promise to perpetuate the economic and the political structure owned by the ruling elites. Do we see Yama san’s action as a helpless attempt at changing the irreversible direction humanity is heading? Or is he a part of the awakened population which shifts the direction in which we are heading? I keep wondering. A highly recommended movie.
The movie screens at MOMA on: