dir: Kon Ichikawa
Spine Number: 155
What are the Olympics? A sporting event designed to feature summer and winter sports occurring once every four years staggered? Yes, but. The Olympics are more than this and that is what director Kon Ichikawa was looking to highlight. To him the Olympics is a two week span of world peace. For two weeks nations around the world come together for sport.
Neither Kon nor I am ignorant though (about this), we both know that conflict does not halt for a track meet. Terrorism and terrorist will still deal in evil this summer, for the Rio Games, there will still be a conflict in Crimea and difficult relationships between the US and Russia. Syria will still be battling a civil war.
When my wife and I sit down to watch some Olympic events we know that we are about to watch a collection of some of the best and brightest athletes the world over competing both for personal as well as national pride. We are tuning in to watch people complete in a sport to which they have devoted their entire life. Okay, sure, I tune in to watch the camera work but I recognize that sport is happening as well.
This is something that Ichikawa also managed to capture. Tokyo Olympiad is nearly three hours long and it does not have a clear dramatic narrative but there are hours of beautiful and memorable images. Personally I found the the best photography can be found in the bicycling and gymnastics, each for different reasons. For the bicycling the cameramen found some incredibly unique places from which they filmed making the landscape of Tokyo just as important as the athletes. For the gymnastics Ichikawa added a couple interesting film effects to show the viewer a new view of the events.
During an interview special feature Ichikawa said that he instructed his cameramen to capture two things. One, the event, they had jobs to do and they needed to try and do them. Two, and more importantly, he wanted the operators to attempt to capture the souls of the athletes and what was going through their minds as they give 100% of themselves in to sport.
Tokyo Olympiad is a sports movie, but t is also an avant garde art film. The film is hard to find and there is a truncated edition of it on youtube so you can stream most of it. I watched a couple of minutes of it and I can guarantee that if you really want to see the film you should seek out the Criterion DVD as the picture quality is a non-contest between the two. The video and audio have a very high quality to them. Just as notable is the DVD menu which features about twenty instances of the same film phrase which start with a second delay between each showing a cascading footrace.