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A native of Tochigi Prefecture and a graduate of the University of Tokyo, where he majored in religious studies, Kazuhiro Soda took an early turn off a conventional career path when he went to New York in 1993 to study filmmaking at the School of Visual Arts. After a stab at fiction filmmaking, which won him prizes but not many job offers, he began working on documentaries to pay the rent — and discovered a new vocation.

But this admirer of Frederick Wiseman — a pioneering American documentary filmmaker whose observational style did away with talking heads, voice-over narration and background music — was never going to be happy grinding out documentaries for NHK, for whom such methods were de rigueur. After making more than 40 programs for the public broadcaster, Soda decided to strike out on his own.

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