Laboratory X

Although Americans already overdosed on exposure to the intricacies of political machinations may find it less than enticing, the documentary "Campaign" offers a compelling if at times overlong cinema verite portrait of local politics, Japanese style. Shorn of any stylistic flourishes, the film -- directed, edited and photographed by New York-based filmmaker Kazuhiro Soda -- is unlikely to gain much traction theatrically, but it should garner considerable interest when a shorter version is aired on PBS later this year.

The filmmaker tracks, in exhausting detail, the campaign for a city council seat in the city of Kawasaki, near Tokyo, by one Kazuhiko Yamauchi of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. Competing in the relatively unimportant race, Yamauchi, a businessman with no previous political experience, turns out to be an affable and cooperative candidate, though not a particularly stimulating one.

Generally ignored, if not outright disrespected, by the political elders in his party, Yamauchi soldiers on in dogged fashion, flashing an ever-present smile while going through his increasingly repetitive and robotic paces. Watching closely with a mounting degree of disgust is his wife Sayuri, who is able to voice the discontent that her husband either doesn't feel or doesn't express.

Ultimately, the endless procession of scenes in which the candidate hands out fliers, shakes hands, makes perfunctory speeches, etc. prove as repetitive for the viewer as it must have been for him. While the film provides a valuable fly-on-the-wall perspective on the intricate details of small-scale Japanese politics, it proves a less than galvanizing cinematic experience.