Tokyo Olympiad

"Extraordinary"

Tokyo Olympiad Review


Boy did I groan when I put Tokyo Olympiad in the DVD player. A three hour documentary about the 1964 Olympic Games? Ugh! I have never been able to stand Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia, about the 1936 Games in Berlin, which is interminably dull, less compelling than an episode of The Wide World of Sports, and simply not even technically interesting as filmmaking.

And while Olympia has its fans, none of them could dare claim that the movie approaches the mastery of Kon Ichikawa. Olympia starts as a series of weird performance art images then turns into a lifeless chronology of one Olympic event after another (intercut with shots of Hitler). But Ichikawa turns the Games into something full of life, drama, and subtext. He gives us the events, but we also catch the undertones of, say, the doping of the German team, the subtle corporate sponsorships, and slow-motion looks at the athletes' impossible muscles in motion.

The year of creation has a lot to do with this. 1964 still has some of that post-War exuberance and pre-Vietnam innocence. Globalism, rampant drug abuse, and overt consumerism were only just beginning to impact the games, and it's looking for these signs (like a pair of Adidas on one athlete -- this in an era before Nike existed) that makes the three hours zip by.

Shot in widescreen and with a variety of styles -- from swish pans to extreme close-ups -- it's a masterwork of cinematography. The long, single-take scene of a torch-bearer running across the screen, as Mount Fuji fills the background, stands as one of the most profoundly moving shots in cinematic history.

Ichikawa misses with some of his vignettes -- a long bit focusing on a runner from Chad is pedantic and affected -- but the movie is fascinating by and large. However, whether or not you've seen the movie before, you absolutely must skip the regular audio and turn on commentator Peter Cowie's audio track. He's a British chap with a very mannered voice, but his insight is biting and often amusing, and he helps you find those details (like the Adidas) that you'd otherwise never see in a million years.

Tokyo Olympiad also comes with a booklet so thick I thought it was originally a second disc. Full of additional commentary, interviews, and the entire list of medalists from the Games, it's a great companion to a fabulous Criterion disc.

Aka Tokyo orimpikku.



Tokyo Olympiad

Facts and Figures

Run time: 93 mins

In Theaters: Friday 24th September 1965

Distributed by: Toho Company Ltd.

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Fresh: 11

IMDB: 8.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Kon Ichikawa

Producer: Suketaru Taguchi

Starring: Abebe Bikila as Himself, as English-Language Narrator

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