Thursday, February 20, 2014

Doc Fortnight '14: Campaign 2

Don’t call it a last hurrah. Kazuhiko Yamauchi, Kawasaki’s world famous city council candidate, has decided to throw his hat in the ring again. This time, he will forgo the indignities of electioneering, running a bare-bones campaign as a complete independent with no party support. He will also be the only candidate adopting an anti-nuclear position in the wake of the Fukushima crisis. The result will be another lesson in Japanese democracy, recorded in Kazuhiro Soda’s documentary sequel, Campaign 2, which screens tomorrow as part of MoMA’s 2014 Documentary Fortnight.

Even though Yama-san was successful as the LDP’s unlikely standard-bearer in the special council election Soda followed the first time round, he soon resigned his position, claiming frustration with the recalcitrant political system. Six or so years later, the stay-at-home dad is giving it another go. This time he is only spending money on the filing fee and the tightly regulated campaign posters. Shrewdly, his closely resembles the poster for Soda’s original documentary.

Since he is not hiring loud-speaker cars or harassing commuters at transit hubs, Yamauchi has a lot of time to chew the political fat with his old classmate Soda. Frankly, in Campaign 1, Yamauchi was cringingly obsequious, but the more experienced Yama-san has some surprisingly acerbic commentary to offer regarding his colleagues. However, his anti-nuclear platform is still not so well thought out, unless he is eager for Japan to start importing massive tons of coal and fossil fuels.

Of course, Yamauchi is still the protagonist of Campaign 2, but Soda’s focus is wider.  It is clear he is as preoccupied with the ways the 3-11 disasters have affected daily life in Japan as Yama-san, if not more so. Perhaps even more fascinating are his interactions with the politicians who know him from their supporting roles in Campaign 1.  In fact, New Yorkers accustomed to Chuck Schumer will be absolutely flabbergasted to see politicians who do not want to be filmed (shocking, but true).

Arguably, the real takeaway from Campaign 2 is not Yama-san’s anti-nuclear platform, but the shallow nature of Japanese political campaigns, especially at a critical post-3-11 juncture. Bizarrely, an apparent gentlemen’s agreement still holds, largely nixing candidate debates. Basically, they just smile and repeat their names.

At one hundred fifty minutes, Campaign 2 could stand for some pruning here and there. However, Yamauchi’s new found wit and attitude is a nice surprise that does not come at the expense of his lovable loser likability. Like its predecessor, Campaign 2 is another eccentric yet serious look under the hood of Japanese democracy. Recommended for political junkies and Yama-san groupies, Campaign 2 screens tomorrow (2/21) and Saturday (2/22) as part of MoMA’s Doc Fortnight, with Soda present for Q&A both days.