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Sunday, July 12, 2009

MEDIA MIX

'Campaign' star no longer life of the party


Takafumi Horie, the former CEO of Livedoor Inc., has nothing to do with the documentary "Campaign," which had a special public screening at the Rise X theater in Shibuya the morning of June 30. However, the subject of the movie, politics, is close to his heart, so he agreed to discuss it with the film's director, Kazuhiro Soda, and its "star," Kazuhiko Yamauchi, following the screening.

Three years after his arrest for securities fraud (he was subsequently convicted but remains free on appeal) Horie is still a media star, and there were plenty of press people in the tiny venue taking pictures as the three men discussed the electoral process.

In 2005, Horie ran as an independent for a Diet seat in the Hiroshima 6th district but lost to veteran Shizuka Kamei, who had recently bolted the ruling Liberal Democratic Party because of his objection to reforms being pushed by then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Horie and Yamauchi compared campaign experiences.

As shown in the film, Yamauchi ran for a vacated Kawasaki city assembly seat in a special poll held only a month after the 2005 general election that Horie ran in and which proved to be a huge victory for Koizumi and the LDP. Yamauchi was an LDP candidate. Both men said that they quickly learned their priorities. For Yamauchi, it was to earn the trust of the local LDP organization, since he had been "recruited" from outside Kawasaki. He had no name recognition in the district. That wasn't an issue for Horie, who was a huge celebrity at the time. Nevertheless, he found it difficult to make headway in the region. For one thing, elderly people vote in huge numbers in Hiroshima, "so you have to bring in the nursing-home vote," he explained. This proved impossible, since Kamei had a lock on all the nursing homes. "I couldn't campaign at any of them since they're private property and wouldn't allow me in." Buses came and shuttled residents to the polling places, thus isolating them from any candidates other than Kamei. The two men told stories that revealed how current party-oriented election campaigns are antidemocratic, but they confessed that the heady atmosphere of a campaign is addictive. "When the sound trucks come around, people are so happy," said Horie. "They love to cheer for a candidate, and if you are involved in the process, you enjoy it. I had a really good time."

"Campaign" conveys this process objectively and candidly. Soda, who was a classmate of Yamauchi's at the University of Tokyo, started filming the Kawasaki campaign on the spur of the moment, with no plan or crew. He captured the back-room discussions, the party mechanism, and the arguments between Yamauchi and his wife, who didn't like the demands made on her by the campaign organization.

As a candidate, he was the center of attention, but the movie shows clearly what almost everybody knows: Candidates are little more than the tools of dedicated interests.

After the discussion, Yamauchi is sitting in a coffee shop around the corner from Rise X. Since "Campaign" was first released in 2006, it has made the rounds of the international festival circuit and, in addition to theatrical runs in Japan, was aired by NHK three times, albeit in drastically edited form. The ex-assemblyman admits that the movie has made him a minor celebrity, and he obviously enjoys the notoriety.

"When I finally saw the finished movie, I was shocked by it," he says. "And I had some problem with it in the beginning. But when it came out, my term as an assemblyman had already ended, and through my experience I had become aware that the election system and the way voters view elections are wrong. So through this movie I can talk about that more freely."

Yamauchi was always interested in politics, and though he demonstrates passion and dedication throughout the campaign depicted in the film, there is something touchingly naive about his approach, which indicates a total ignorance of the way politics really works.

"It's true, I didn't imagine it would be like that," he admits. "I thought politics was something you carried out yourself, but good politics involves many people. The way people choose their representatives is pretty terrible, and I now recognize that. But when you are at the center of it, you can't see it."

What Yamauchi learned was that a candidate is not expected to please his constituency. His main task is to please his party's supporters. In a key scene, a party functionary scolds Yamauchi for leaving a campaign stop early and upsetting some supporters who showed up just to see him, even though all he was doing was shouting his name and handing out flyers.

"I had to do what the party asks," he explains. "I had to make the people in the party happy by showing that I'm working hard. Of course, I wasn't doing anything meaningful, but I was doing it for the organization that supported me. That's what's most important."

Yamauchi won because he was running in the shadow of Koizumi's huge victory in the national election a month before. He supported the prime minister's call for reform, but eventually realized there wasn't much to it. "I thought the LDP was changing," he says, "and I wanted to be part of that movement, but four years later not much has changed."

He agrees that the media exacerbates the problem by only reporting the "political situation."

"Right now," he says, "all they talk about is when to dissolve the Diet, which is less important than policies that affect people's lives. That's why young people don't vote. This whole controversy over whether or not (Miyazaki Governor Hideo) Higashikokubaru is going to run in the upcoming general election is just stupid. The more exposure he gets, the more the LDP wants him and relies on his popularity, rather than their own policies. It was the exact same thing in 2005 with the 'Koizumi theater.' "

Even worse, once Yamauchi assumed his seat in the Kawasaki assembly, he found no differences among the different parties in terms of policy making.

"There was no debate," he says. "Of course, the Communists always opposed everything, but that was it."

Then, he was pressured by the LDP to form his own support organization, but they required that he form one from scratch by recruiting 50 new people into the party. It was impossible, and without a support group (in the previous race he used other politicians' supporters), he couldn't run for re-election.

"The LDP made me pledge not to run in the next assembly election," he says. "I'm sure I could have won if I had run as an independent, because people knew my face. But if I did that, the LDP would think I was ungrateful."

It's an odd sentiment given how disillusioned Yamauchi is by the process, but he really is grateful for having been given the opportunity to run in the first place, and he says he wants to get back into politics. In the film, he despairs over the fact that he isn't famous, and it's ironic that the movie has made him somewhat famous, since the portrait isn't always flattering.

Earnest and patient, Yamauchi often comes across as being hopelessly at the mercy of his handlers, a trait that even his wife, Sayuri, finds annoying. "When foreign people see the movie, they think I'm a comedian," he says. Japanese viewers, however, may come away with a more sobering conclusion. "NHK was very sensitive about airing it and asked the director to get confirmation from the LDP that it would be OK. He refused. NHK broadcast it but didn't publicize it."

The movie shows that exposure is the be-all and end-all of elections. Nevertheless, as the Horie-Yamauchi discussion proved, it seems difficult to think outside that particular box. Yamauchi believes that only people with high-name recognition could ever hope to effect change in Japan, and he and Horie came to the conclusion that the best way to "destroy the system" was to promote a party of all show-business personalities, who could easily be elected and have "no ties" to existing political power bases and their networks of entrenched interests. The two men were only being half-facetious.

Because he's a house husband now, Yamauchi has the relative freedom of indulging his interest in politics. He talks about forming a political party that would promote child rearing and support single mothers. He talks about changing laws that prohibit the use of the Internet for campaign purposes, a change, he says, that would greatly benefit candidates who have less money and no party backing. He still believes in party politics. It's just that no party appeals to him at the moment.

"The LDP manifesto is different for each election," he points out, "so it's difficult to trust them. And the members of the Democratic Party of Japan all have different ideas, so it's impossible to determine a party stance. If the parties reorganized under uniform ideologies, maybe I could find one that fits my philosophy. But right now, I'm just interested in supporting individuals I believe in."

Masako Tsubuku contributed to this article. "Campaign" is now being shown at Rise X in Shibuya, Tokyo. All screenings have English subtitles.


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