Today the Japan Foundation played host to an evening with Japanese documentary maker Kazuhiro Soda, author of Campaign and Mental.  Soda gave an informal, interactive talk about his documentary film work beginning with his leaving Japan for New York on a whim and enrolling in film school and then serendipitously seeing an advertisement for a filmmaker who knew Japanese and English which led him into making documentary films for NHK. He came to making his first feature length film on hearing that a friend from university had recently decided to run for public office, this was surprising as his friend has always been quite eccentric – having failed to enter university five times, he never attended classes (despite living on campus) and subsequently was held back three times, he met his wife on the internet and they decided to honeymoon in North Korea(!) – and not only was he standing for office he was doing so with the backing of the staunchly conservative JLPD (the party of  Prime Minister Koizumi, in power at the time). Soda described his alienation from the TV documentary production methods he’d been used to – scripting/narration, shot lists, titles, music etc and his decision to make an observational film, to go in with no research, no preconceptions just to observe with camera and construct the film in the editing room. He then showed a clip from his second film, Mental,  which centered around a very open and moving story from a women who’d suffered some truly terrible things and discussed the ethical difficulties of documentary film making. Although many of the patients at the clinic declined to participate in the film, luckily there were enough who accepted and Soda was very clear about obtaining permission before shooting, taking into account the very sensitive nature of the information. In other cases though it  was possible that permission be sought afterwards where necessary, but permission is always sought and the subjects well being always a very important factor in the filmmaking process. The audience was then treated to a very special preview of Soda’s latest film, Peace, which is screening at the Sheffield documentary festival this weekend. Having intended to make a film about his wife’s grandmother which proved too sensitive and had to be abandoned, Soda was watching his father-in-law feed some stray cats when he noticed a male cat prowling around the circle of others and not being allowed in. The father-in-law explained that this was ‘thief cat’ who would look for an opportunity to steal the food for the others and was thus not very popular, the father-in-law had taken to putting a separate dish of food away from the other cats to stop this happening and thief cat eagerly, if somewhat suspiciously, lapped this up. It struck Soda that this would be a perfect scenario for a film commission he’d recently been offered which needed to reflect the them of peace and acceptance which he’d been unsure whether to accept. Luckily he’d had the camera rolling and decided to include the moment in his next film. The clip shown certainly looked very interesting and we can only hope the film will find an audience after its Sheffield screening.

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