Former Uruguayan President José Mujica is a modest man. He gives 90% of his salary to the poor and notoriously (or admirably, depending on one’s perspective) drove a busted Volkswagen during his term in office from 2010-2015. During his tenure, Mujica gave a compelling speech at the United Nations’ Rio Summit “Sustainable Development and Human Happiness.” The speech, which appears throughout Kazuma Tabei’s documentary H_osé! José Mujica! -Just Keep Walking_, exemplifies refreshing humility and optimism from a world leader.
Tabei explains how Mujica’s speech roused the Japanese so splendidly that a picture book was created in his honour. Drawing upon author Yoshimi Kusaba and monk Gaku Nakagaw’s book The World’s Poorest President Speaks Out, the doc considers the aspects of humility that define a great leader. Tabei explores how Mujica is almost more revered in Japan than he is in his native country, and a visit to Uruguay lands a one-on-one interview with the world leader. The director displays reverence and respect for Mujica, but the doc isn’t a straightforward saintly portrait. Rather, it delivers the conversation that Mujica’s 2012 invited. The film is an open and pragmatic dialogue about the need to consider collective goodwill, environmental sustainability, and shared responsibilities to the planet.
Mujica speaks plainly when it comes to Japanese culture, either. He considers the prosperity of the island nation in the years following World War II, particularly after the devastating atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the resilience of the Japanese. He unpacks the developments in technology, which are both truly innovative and deeply troubling as they provide conveniences for some at the expense of the jobs of others. Mujica’s unimpressed yet inquisitive look at an android that fulfills the duties of a human at a customer service desk in Japan, for example, illustrates his concern about the need to find middle ground between the needs for development and human happiness. One should not come at the loss of the other.
Tabei’s unfussy verité style lets the message guide the story. As the doc travels the globe, and accompanies Mujica on a tour of Japan where people welcome him as if he’s a rock star, Just Keep Walking captures currents of globalization and interconnectedness. There is a true sense of an exchange between the director and his subject, as well as between the Uruguayans and the Japanese. As Tabei reflects upon the President’s words and their effect on the people of Japan, his film delivers a personal and introspective consideration of cross-cultural understanding. It inspires one to create a better world.
Hosé! José Mujica! -Just Keep Walking streams at the Toronto Japanese Film Festival through June 27.