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SXSW ’07 Interview: "Campaign" Director Kazuhiro Soda

Campaign at SxSW 2007
by Jason Whyte

THE PITCH: Can a candidate with no political experience and no charisma win an election if he is backed by Prime Minister Koizumi and his Liberal Democratic Party? This observational documentary closely follows a heated election campaign in Japan, revealing the true nature of "J-democracy.

Is this your first film in SxSW? (Or the first film you have) Do you have any other festival experience? If you’re a festival veteran, let us know your favourite and least-favourite parts of the festival experience.

Yes, this is the first time to have my film in SXSW. I just premiered “Campaign” in Berlin Film Festival last week, and it was quite an experience because the audience there love politics. I am so looking forward meet the audience in SXSW because I heard they are also very political.

Could you give me a little look into your background (your own personal biography, if you will), and what led you to the desire to want to make film?

I have made more than 40 documentaries for Japanese televisions by now. I loved making those, but they were all work for hire, and there were many restrictions in terms of style, process, and contents. I started wanting to enjoy more creative freedom and pursue my own style of documentary film making, and here I am, it's kind of like a dream come true to have my own little movie “Campaign” finished and ready to be shown to the festival audience.

Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a…Finish this sentence, please!

When I grow up I want to be a baseball player, a computer game programmer, a painter, an astronomer, or a film director!

While you were making the movie, were you thinking about the future release of the film, be it film festivals, paying customers, critical response, and so forth?

Of course, I was thinking about the future release of the film because otherwise, what do I make it for? But it doesn't mean I tried to make the film marketable. In fact, I have no idea what is marketable. But I believe if I really like the film I make, other people might like it, too.

How did this project come to fruition? If you could, please provide me with a rundown, start to finish, from your involvement.

On October 2, 2005, I learned from a friend that our old classmate Yama-san was running for a Kasawaki City Council seat as the official candidate from the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). I was quite shocked to hear it because Yama-san had no experience in politics and he is such a Bohemian, liberal guy who loves freedom, while the party is the most powerful and conservative one which has been ruling the country for the past 50 years. I was intrigued by this striking contrast, and had an intuition that it would make a thrilling, dynamic documentary movie. I quickly got permission from Yama-san and LDP, and on October 7, 2005, I was already shooting. And 10 months later, I had my final cut.

What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it principal photography or post-production?

In the post production, I worked ten hours a day, seven days a week for two months, and finally I had my first rough cut. But when I saw it for the first time, I hated the cut so much that I wanted to kill myself. I realized that I was cutting it like a TV show using fast cuts and manipulative montage. It looked pretty cool and catchy, but it was not an observational film I intended to make. I had to make an important decision whether I should keep going with the cut I have or I should throw it away and redo the editing from scratch. It was a tough decision, but I chose to dump everything and to start all over again, which I think was one of the best decisions I've ever made in my life.

Please tell me about the technical side of the film; your relation to the film’s cinematographer, what the film was shot on and why it was decided to be photographed this way.

I used Sony's HDV camera because I knew it would look fantastic on a big screen and also very affordable. The fact that it was editable on my Final Cut Pro 5 natively was also a big plus.

Talk a bit about the festival experiences, if any, that you have had with this particular film. Have you had any interesting audience stories or questions that have arisen at screenings?

As I said before, I had my very first public screenings at Berlin Film Festival last week. Because what's happening in my movie is quite extra ordinary and outrageous, one of the viewers could not believe it was a documentary and kept asking me if it was for real or fiction. I had to explain to him for a couple of times that everything is for real and there is not a single scene that was staged before he finally believed me.

Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world (directors, actors, cinematographers, etc)? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this film in particular?

Frederick Wiseman. When I first saw his movie “Meat” in a tiny video booth of a public library in New York City, I was completely shocked because it was exactly what I wanted to make next, and he made it in 1976! I just had to commute to the library for a while to see all of his works available there, which was the best learning experience ever. He is amazing.

How far do you think you would want to go in this industry? Do you see yourself directing larger stories for a larger budget under the studio system, or do you feel that you would like to continue down the independent film path?

I'd like to keep my options open, but one thing is clear: I will definitely keep making independent documentary films like Campaign because I love the creative freedom I enjoyed. I know that I won't have the same freedom under the studio system.

If you weren’t in this profession, what other career do you think you would be interested in?

A scholar.

Please tell me some filmmakers or actors that you would love to work with, even if money was no object.

Lars von Trier.

Do you think that you have “made it” in this profession yet? If you don’t believe so, what do you think would happen for that moment to occur?

I don't think anybody can "make it" in anything. Life never stays the same. It keeps changing. Today you may be the King, but tomorrow, you could be on a guillotine.

You have been given the go-ahead to make your next movie, but you must include one piece of product placement. Luckily, you get to choose said product placement. What would you choose?

A book by the Dalai Lama

How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?

Very important. But things are changing because of the explosion of the internet and blogs.

Do you have an opinion on the issue of “A Film by (Insert Director Here)”? Is this something you use? Many people collaborate to make a film yet simultaneously, the director is the final word on the production.

I think it is okay to use it because the director should be the one who's ultimately responsible for the success or the failure of the movie.

What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the local twenty-screen megaplex?

See my movie right now because you may never get a chance to see it later!

No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?

Don't think, just do it!

And finally, what is your all time favourite motion picture, and why?

That's a tough one. Maybe, “Tokyo Story” by Yasujiro Ozu. It's just so profound and beautiful.

“Campaign” will have its premiere screening at this year’s SxSW. For more information about the film and screening information, point your browser to the film page on the SxSW site HERE. And check out for even more info!

Jason Whyte,

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originally posted: 02/25/07 19:21:45
last updated: 03/07/07 09:10:25
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