Ichikawa's cameras follow the 1964 Summer Olympics from opening to closing ceremonies. Sometimes he focuses on spectators, as athletes pass in a blur; sometimes he isolates a competitor; ... See full summary »
Ichikawa's cameras follow the 1964 Summer Olympics from opening to closing ceremonies. Sometimes he focuses on spectators, as athletes pass in a blur; sometimes he isolates a competitor; other times, it's a closeup of muscles as a hammer is thrown or a barbell lifted; or, we watch a race from start to finish. We see come-from-behind wins in the women's 800 and the men's 10,000 meters. We follow an athlete from Chad from arrival to meals, training, competition, and loss. Throughout, the film celebrates the nobility of athletes pushing themselves to the limit, regardless of victory. Written by
Kon Ichikawa's "Tokyo Olympiad," a record of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, is not only arguably one of the best sports documentaries ever made, it is also among the best documentaries ever made, period. It is everything one would expect from a man who is known as one of the premiere stylists of the cinema and more. It is poetry, it is art, and it is almost ruthlessly compelling.
Whereas most sports documentaries are relatively cut and dry in that they focus mainly on the winners, Ichikawa has almost no regard for winning or losing at all. For him, it is about the event, the preparation and the movement embodied in Olympic competition - and the film follows both the winners and the losers. The film is incredibly textural. Sight, sound, and movement - even the most imperceptible - all weave together to form a remarkable tapestry that is as much about the director's own concerns as it is about the Games themselves. It is for this reason that the film initially had a rather stormy reception from those that had commissioned Ichikawa to make the film (and given him an army of cameramen to do so), though if my recollection is correct it went on to break box-office records in Japan. "Tokyo Olympiad" is not a film about the victory of winning, it is about the victory of attending - of being amongst the awesome crowds, the athletes, the bodies in motion. Being there is it's own victory, which is why Ichikawa focuses so much on the athletes from the newly formed African nation of Chad who, although they do not come close to winning any medals, are the first representatives of their country to appear in the Olympic Games. For Ichikawa their story is just as triumphant as that of the Ethiopian long-distance runner who unflinchingly leaves all his opponents in the dust and goes on to win his event by a mile. "Tokyo Olympiad" is not just about the realm of athletic or Olympic experience, it is about the human experience and about creating cinema out of it. At nearly 3 hours in length it is neither a minute too short or too long, and I personally feel privileged to have seen it.
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