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One of the masterclasses at this year’s Dharamsala International Film Festival was by the Japanese documentary filmmaker and author, Kazuhiro Soda.
He broke through on the international festival circuit with his debut, Campaign (2007), which followed the election campaign — in Kawasaki, Japan — of a candidate with no political experience, but backed by the Prime Minister and his Liberal Democratic Party. Since then, Kazuhiro Soda has made a number of short and feature documentaries.
Mental (2008) observed an outpatient mental health clinic in Japan. Peace (2010) looked at the daily lives of people and cats in Okayama city. Theatre 1 and Theatre 2 dive not just into the world of Japanese playwright/director Oriza Hirata, but also investigate how art can survive in an increasingly capitalistic society. Oyster Factory (2015) looks at the shortage of labour in the Japanese town of Ushimado due to the rapid decline in population.
The reason I felt it was important to tell you — briefly — what these documentaries are about is to give you a sense of the breadth of Kazuhiro Soda’s range. And yet, these varied subjects are united by a single guiding philosophy. These are all “observational documentaries”, which means that the filmmaker looks closely at the reality in front of him.
“What’s so great about this?” you may wonder. Doesn’t every documentarian “look closely at the reality in front of him”? But with Kazuhiro Soda, it’s more than what seems obvious — because he doesn’t base his films on assumptions and preconceptions he has formed before beginning to shoot. He encourages his audiences, too, to do something similar: actively use their eyes and minds, without just going on the few lines of the synopsis in a festival brochure.
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