Cathy 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!
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.