A Night at the Museum: ‘Campaign’ Plays at MoMA, With a Surprise Guest

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POV senior manager of communications Cathy FisherCathy Fisher, POV’s senior manager of communications, attended a screening of the upcoming POV film Campaign at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City this past week. She writes in to tell us about her night.

“People only listen to you for three seconds, so make sure you mention the candidate’s name in those three seconds!”

Sound familiar? No, this isn’t an advisor tutoring campaign workers in our presidential primaries, but a character in Kazuhiro Soda‘s new film about Japanese politics, Campaign, which will have its broadcast premiere Tuesday, July 29 on POV And in this case, Kazuhiko “Yama-san” Yamauchi, candidate for the Kawasaki City Council, is told, “Make sure you keep bowing, even if it’s to a telephone poll!”
Hot on the heels of a terrific review by A.O. Scott in The New York Times, The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) screened the film Monday, April 7 as part of its “Modern Mondays” and “Contemporasian” series, to a packed house. Jytte Jensen, curator in the museum’s Department of Film, introduced Soda, who answered questions after the film. Soda’s wife, Kiyoko Kashiwagi, was there, along with MoMA Senior Film & Media Publicist Paul Power, and the co-curator of the series, William Phuan from Asian CineVision. I attended with publicist Karen Reynolds.

Campaign, which Scott says “will surely restore your faith in cinema vérité,” provides an insider’s view of Japanese electoral politics in this portrait of a young man plucked from obscurity by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to run for a seat on a suburban city council. Kazuhiko “Yama-san” Yamauchi’s LDP handlers are unconcerned that he has zero political experience, no supporters, no money and no time to prepare. What he does have is boyish charm, naiveté and the LDP’s institutional power pushing him forward — and push they do.
Watch the video trailer for Campaign:

Yama-san allows his life to be turned upside down as he pursues the rituals of Japanese electioneering — from standing outside empty apartment buildings and crowded subway stations in a line with his supporters, megaphone in hand, to deliver the message; to running out of his van at every red light to greet residents and then running back in (phew!); to doing jumping-jacks with senior citizens during their outdoor exercise class. He even has to help a group of martial artists carry a massively heavy ritual ornament on poles. (Makes Barack’s bowling stint look like a day at the races.) At one point, after a long-day of greeting, bowing, yelling and running, Yama-san hands a flyer to a statue of Colonel Sanders outside a KFC with his oft-repeated promise, “I’ll reform!” Hey, it can’t hurt, right?

And beside Yama-san throughout the whole campaign (which we learned lasted only nine days) is his wife, Sayuri, who wears a neon-green nylon jacket (the campaign is big on colors). She’s told to start referring to herself as Kanai (“housewife”) — and to be careful not to mispronounce it to avoid being construed as Okkanai (“scary wife”). The apartment they’ve rented in the Kawasaki district is so tiny that they have to unroll a sleeping bag that takes up the entire width of the apartment before they can go to sleep every night. Soda said it took some persuading for the couple to allow him to film there.

Soda, who has lived in New York for 15 years, told the audience the story of how he met Yama-san. They were classmates at Tokyo University — but when Soda enrolled at age 18, Yama-san was already 24 and still living in the dorms. He had failed his exams five times, and even boasted that his picture appeared in the yearbook three times before he finally graduated. But what he lacks in academic achievement he more than makes up for in pluck and chutzpah — so when Soda learned that Yama-san was running for this seat, he said, “Get out of here!” and got on the next plane from JFK to Japan to follow him on this crazy journey.

The film, and the campaign in the film, ends with rituals and shouts of “Banzai!” (an invented Japanese word to praise the Emperor) from the campaign headquarters, and as the lights came back on at the MoMA theater, we heard someone shout “Banzai!” from the back —and who ran down the aisle like Rocky but Yama-san himself. He’d flown into New York for the MoMA event! The audience loved it, and he answered questions as best he could in English, as Soda translated. They talked about Yama-san’s first reaction to the film (“I was angry; I demanded many cuttings”), their visits to Berlin, Paris, Hong Kong, and Seoul for premieres, Japanese politics, and Soda’s techniques in filming and editing (he shot only 60 hours total, so his ratio is much lower than the average filmmaker’s). I won’t tell you how the film ends, but currently Yama-san is no longer in politics. He’s a house-husband; he and Sayuri are the parents of a 10 month-old baby boy, Yuki, and Sayuri has a full-time job. And they finally moved to a bigger apartment!

Campaign's subject Kazuhiko Yamauchi, MoMA curator Jyette Jensen, filmmaker Kazuhiro Soda and Kiyoko Kashiwagi at the Campaign screening
Kazuhiko “Yama-san” Yamauchi, MoMA curator Jyette Jensen, filmmaker Kazuhiro Soda and his wife, Kiyoko Kashiwagi at the MoMA screening of Campaign

After the Q&A, Yama-san was surrounded by well-wishers as he signed autographs and sold copies of his new book about the campaign. Then we went to the Museum’s gorgeous restaurant, The Modern, for a celebratory drink. If you are ever in town, you must go there for a meal or drink. It really is stunning — so New York! Mechakucha Sugoi!

And if you’re here in New York right now, Campaign is playing at MoMA for a few more days. You can find out when the film is screening at MoMA’s website.

And make sure to watch Campaign on POV on Tuesday, July 29 at 10 p.m. on PBS (check your local listings).
Cheers and thanks for reading my first-ever blog.

Cathy Fisher
Cathy Fisher
As POV's senior manager for communications, Cathy publicizes POV's programs and initiatives to media and consumers. She joined POV in 2003 after five years as manager of program press relations at PBS. Previously, she served as public relations director at Bravo and the Independent Film Channel; Group W Satellite Communications, where she managed PR for TNN: The Nashville Network; Westwood One Radio Networks; and D.L. Blackman, where she promoted classical music artists and IMAX movies. She was also the manager of press, advertising and promotion for NBC and ABC Radio. Cathy's favorite documentaries are: 1. Inheritance - James Moll 2. Innocence Lost trilogy - Ofra Bikel 3. The Natural History of the Chicken - Mark Lewis 4. Street Fight - Marshall Curry 5. Suicide Killers - Pierre Rehov
  • A Qui Tam Relator

    Anyone that lived through the Vietnam era knew that Michael Moore was correct in the fabrication of war, McNamera even fessed up to the truth of a fabricated war and of course if anyone was paying attention back in the 60′s & 70′s the Daniel Elsberg Trial. “Hubris” by the way should win this years award, that is sooo much truth it hurts ! Bravo Michael Moore for sustaining such a rude and pompous crowd of Extreamly Rich and Privilaged Sheeple but you held your head high because you and millions of other Americans knew the real truth and its more obvious today then your acceptance speech. And to the Ultra Rich in the room that night “You Bunch Of Bone-Heads !”

  • Richard

    Every film, every “radical statement” that Michael Moore makes is always proven as truth within a few short years.

  • A Qui Tam Relator

    http://billmoyers.com/segment/richard-wolff-on-fighting-for-economic-justice-and-fair-wages/. Reagan’s Trickle-Down Economics and the “Meese” Crowd” knew it was to line the pockets of the rich and was never intended to trickle down to the middle class and the poor. Another Lie !

    • ms

      Hey instead of waiting for things that aren’t yours to trickle down to you why don’t you go earn/make/create something?

  • http://www.facebook.com/nadine.lumley Nadine Lumley

    I was so proud of him when he did that but I had no idea about the threats to his life until I read his book about his childhood, I highly recommend it, very good reading:



  • 095

    Sometimes we in Europe feel like Michael Moore is the only sober voice in the USA. However slowly though, things are changing. Michael’s courage and integrity have always been and remain phenomenal.

    • Jonah

      Europe is no different than the USA. Your leaders, and people wear a mask to hide the fact that you’re just like us. You preach liberal values, and equality for all, yet use cheap overseas labor to progress the capitalist machine that is the European Union.

      • m

        Liberalism in general tends to serve the purpose of easing the masses with the rhetoric of treating symptoms. Only the most idiotic of the capitalists turn further right, mistaking the rhetoric for content like so many among the middle class.

      • Phil

        Europe may be just as neo-liberal as the States, but that’s not really the point. So is pretty much the entire world. But influential European nations (France, Germany) stood up against the Iraq war. There are always nuances, “we’re all as bad as each other” is a lazy argument.

        • Jonah

          As opposed to suggesting that we ARE just the same, but somehow better than YOU cause our transgressions are lesser. Right, you would know lazy.

        • MS

          France stood up against the war because they had billion dollar weapons deals to provide Saddam with every thing from helicopters to Nuclear Reactors. China did because they had deals to provide and develop fiber-optic communications systems to replace Iraqs vulnerable above ground systems. Russia did because of oil deals and weapons deals for sophisticated smart-bomb missile jamming devices. So stop pretending anyone opposed the wars for any thing different then America was in favor of it; self-interest.

          What is most interesting is if America hadn’t invaded, Iraq would be armed to the teeth now and impossible to invade due to efforts of our ‘allies’ who made trillions of it and then would be screaming for us to come save them when he went after the very oil in the region people claimed was the only reason we went to war in the first place.

          You didn’t stand up against the war. you stood up for profits. Sounds very…. American… of you.

      • http://www.eyestir.com/ Bill Owen

        US has killed 20 to 30 million people since WWII, but to the jingos, Belgium is the problem. I will wait while you look up Belgium.

    • Jonah

      Oh, and you kill around the world in the name of freedom and justice, but have ulterior motives…just like us.

  • http://twitter.com/cafemomoi Anoushka

    Great Article. I remember all that very well.

  • http://twitter.com/rabbitandcrow Neal Romanek

    Great piece! I was there at the Oscar show that night and – though it might not have come through in the broadcast – there were an awful lot of people applauding and cheering him in that room. But then the boo-ers got louder and louder. But the very worst people were the ones who were silent.

  • http://twitter.com/Vickivancouver Vicki Vancouver

    Tom: I could die happy seeing Moore as President. It would take someone to capture the world’s imagination to turn things around. Great article.

  • Brian

    The part I’ve always found strangest about the lead up to the war is how we’ve rewritten history now looking back at it. We were not “fooled” that we were going to Iraq because of WMD’s. And it wasn’t regarded as a conspiracy theory to think there weren’t any. Some people went along for the ride and chose to ignore what was going on, but there was a large consensus that Bush was just looking for justification for starting a war he’d already decided to have.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Luis-Almeida/1486234717 Luis Almeida

    For me, in this distant and opposite side of the Atlantic ( Lisbon, Portugal), Mike shares a place among a minority of American brave citizen who function like Pinnocchio’s little cricket. They are America’s conscience, they are the morally noble part of America. And this, by itself, makes them the true patriots…

  • edd

    Michael Moore had the balls to oppose to Bush’s wars! Now it’s easy to critice Bush because he left office but in those hard times nobody says a word except this man.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bramwolfe Bram Wolfe

    Loved this article. Thanks for making it.

  • ck

    Mike Moore is perhaps the most misleading and dishonest “documentarian” there is. The fictitious nature of Bowling for Columbine should have exempted it from consideration for the award it won.

    Whether you support his views or not, take a good hard look into whatever the fat man says, most often you will find that he justifies the ends by means of flat out lies. BfC was full of editing tricks which are used to splice different speeches together, it splices 2 adverts (one by the Bush administration and another by an independent org.) and claims that the invented advert was wholly funded by the Bush admin. The bank scene was carefully crafted by lying to the bank which does give guns away with account openings, however the guns are not stored on site (unlike what mike wants you to believe in the interview where the teller says there are 500 or so guns in the vault, key point being that the vault is not on site), the guns arrive via licensed firearms dealers at a later date… This not to mention that the store was told that the interview was by someone doing a story about unique businesses…

    These are only a few lies which can be seen in BfC, there are far too many to list here, look it up for yourself, do not believe the big boy’s rhetoric which is designed to deceive. Look into this steaming heap of crap that duped the academy into giving an award meant for non-fiction documentaries to a very fictitious entertainment flick and you will find lies on top of lies, just look into it.

    My point is not that the movie is biased. The point is that Moore commits grossly unethical practices when he lies on purpose, misrepresents himself to interviewees, shoves words into peoples mouths through cheap editing tricks, all to mislead the public. The man is the Criss Angel of documentarians…

    • john649

      zzzzzzzzz, Moore’s movies are a refreshing change from the constant corporate propaganda pushed onto us by just about everyone.

  • Doc Soup Man

    We live in an era when there’s overwhelming chatter for every milestone, every time the wind blows, but where’s the chorus acknowledging this signficant 10th anniversary? I don’t hear it.