Thursday, September 10, 2009

Election? What election?

All the hoopla surrounding the election really seems to have died down. Most of the formerly-ubiquitous campaign posters have been torn down, and apart from the occasional news article things seem to be back to normal, which fortunately for us means no more irritating megaphone vans. Save for a few newspaper articles, it's almost like it never happened... that is, until the DPJ actually takes power for the first time in the coming weeks. We'll see how that turns out.

Despite my own interest in the subject, I know a lot of this stuff can be pretty boring in the abstract. That's why I found this hourlong documentary that ran on PBS so fascinating: it's a rare look inside the Japanese political machine, through the campaign of a young, inexperienced candidate.

The candidate, Yamauchi, is an admitted LDP ringer from Tokyo who was sent by the party to run to fill an unexpected vacancy on Kawasaki's City Council. This is a documentary where the LDP bosses really don't come off well, in both their tactics and their attitudes toward the newcomer. Yamauchi himself comes off as a sincere and affable guy (if not especially principled), and you can tell during more candid moments how much he resents the way he and his wife are treated by the party.

There are some unique aspects to the campaign gauntlet that I found quite interesting, but some of the ridiculous events he's forced to participate in are definitely reminiscent of the more embarassing political stunts that seem so common in our own election season. And, yes, like any respectable Japanese candidate, he has his own irritating megaphone van.

Here's the official description:

This is democracy — Japanese style. Campaign provides a startling insider's view of Japanese electoral politics in this portrait of a man plucked from obscurity by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to run for a critical seat on a suburban city council. Kazuhiko "Yama-san" Yamauchi's LDP handlers are unconcerned that he has zero political experience, no charisma, no supporters and no time to prepare. What he does have is the institutional power of Japan's modern version of Tammany Hall pushing him forward. Yama-san allows his life to be turned upside down as he pursues the rituals of Japanese electioneering — with both tragic and comic results.

A little context: this was filmed in 2005, when the LDP was at the height of its modern power under Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who was exceedingly popular primarily for his hairstyle. No, seriously. He was a self-described reformer who made a lot of big promises and charmingly impersonated Elvis from time to time, but only really succeeding at two things: privatizing the postal service and pissing off millions of Chinese and Koreans by visiting shrines dedicated to World War II-era war criminals. Spoiler alert: you'll get to see ol' "Lionheart" himself making a half-hearted speech at a campaign rally for our guy Yamauchi!

You can watch it online right now for free: POV: Campaign. Even if you're not into politics, this is an entertaining little documentary on its own merits.

1 comment:

  1. Greg, thanks for posting this. We probably wouldn't have seen the video. Right now we're still watching it –– with interruptions from daily life here in PDX. LaValle