Campaign is a whimsical look at Japanese electoral politics from filmmaker Kazuhiro Soda, whose friend Yamauchi “Yama-San” Kazuhiko is plucked from obscurity by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to run for a critical seat on the Kawasaki city council. Soda films his friend, and along the way, manages to provide a startling insider’s view of Japanese electoral politics.
Yamauchi Kazuhiko seems an unlikely choice to run for office. A newcomer to the city, he has zero political experience, no charisma, no supporters and no time to prepare. According to the candidate, he has never even owner a suit before. What he does have is the institutional power of Japan’s modern version of Tammany Hall pushing him forward. Yamauchi allows his life to be turned upside down by party bosses as he pursues the rituals of Japanese electioneering.

Watching Campaign from an American perspective is fascinating. The similarities and differences between the democratic process in the U.S. and Japan reveal themselves in a myriad of ways. For example, Yama-San calls himself a “parachute” candidate because he moved from Tokyo to Kawasaki to run for the open city council seat. This kind of term exists in American politics as well — in the form of the “carpetbagger” candidate. On the other hand, American candidates are encouraged to always be confident while Yama-San showed a lot of deference to the party elders during the campaign.

Yama-San’s wife, Sayuri, objects to the role that she has to take in the campaign. She is told that she must refer to herself as a “housewife” instead of a “wife” to appeal to the conservative supporters of the LDP. Do you think Sayuri was right to be upset? What roles do candidates’ spouses play in the American political process?

Filmmaker Kazuhiro Soda is also mystified by parts of the American political process. He says that in Japan, “election law prohibits candidates from spending too much money,” and he feels uneasy because in America, “only people who are rich can be elected.” Do you agree with him? Should American politics have more restrictive laws on how much money candidates can spend on their campaigns?

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Former POVer Ruiyan Xu worked on developing and producing materials for POV's website. Before coming to POV, she worked in the Interactive and Broadband department at Channel Thirteen/WNET. Ruiyan was born in Shanghai and graduated from Brown University with a B.A. in Modern Culture and Media.