Movie of the Week: Campaign! (選挙!) 2007

New York based director Kazuhiro Soda documents Kazuhiko Yamauchi’s bid for a seat of the Kawasaki City Council. Yamauchi, a graduate of Tokyo University and classmate of filmmaker Soda’s, launches an inexplicable self financed bid to run for a highly contested seat in Kawasaki, but shatters typical images of politicians in Japan. Yamauchi was, by reports, a deadbeat student who took nearly 7 years to graduate, spending more time partying than studying, and later starts a small business trading collectible coins and stamps. Although not explicitly stated, one is led to believe that Yamauchi has sold everything he owns to run for this insignificant seat in a town that he’s not from. What ensues is a revealing and often unflattering portrait of the complicated world of Japanese politics.

Although the party provides name support for Yamauchi’s campaign, they do not finance it. Freshman candidates are expected to pay for their own campaigns without seeking donations. Yamauchi and his wife face a gauntlet of hazing from the party, from campaign professionals and from the general public itself, criticizing the style of handshake, where and what to attend, when to show up, and how one should address one’s wife. Yamauchi’s wife, who works for an American company, is told that she should quit her job in favor of an uncertain campaign to prevent upstaging her husband, revealing the complex and often distasteful world of gender politics in Japan.

In the end Yamauchi wins, but it’s clear that he is broke and his marriage is on the rocks. Yamauchi and his wife show up late for a celebration of the win appearing stressed and possibly at the end of a prolonged argument. Waiting for Yamauchi to appear, Soda’s camera captures the backbiting and complaints of LDP officials, leading one to wonder why anyone would run at all and whether Yamauchi truly wants to become a politician or whether it’s the results of some bar-room challenge between buddies. Either way, the film is a brilliant look into a complex world rarely seen in Japan.

Yamauchi has since retired from politics, not seeking a second bid for the Kawasaki City Council seat. He now plays househusband, raising his son, while his wife, who ignored cries for her to quit her job, continues to work in Tokyo.

You can watch the film in its entirety here. A trailer is below:

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

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