Having watched his way through 1001 movies "you must see before you die", a habitual list maker, average joe and film blogger, lingers in the theater after the lights have come up...
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Written By: Kon Ichikawa, Yoshio Shirasaka, Shuntaro Tanikawa, Natto Wada
Main Cast: Abebe Bikila, Jack Douglas
LET THE GAMES BEGIN!
It was back in February of 2010 when I came to this blog and gushed about Leni Riefenstahl's Olympia. Thinking back, it was probably one of the first reviews I did that didn't make me cringe upon re-reading it and remembering the film, it was one of the first documentaries that I really took a shine to. Anyway, Tokyo Olympiad follows nearly the exact same format, instead focusing on the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo.
Plot synopsis really doesn't exist with documentary, does it? However, I'll go over the particulars with you of what you'll see and then we'll get into some quick thoughts before wrapping up and moving along. As with any Olympic games, it all starts with the opening ceremonies and the welcoming of 93 competing countries to the Land of the Rising Sun. It's quite the spectacle watching all of these countries parade around in the main stadium and get a load of those cowboy hats on the Americans - I suspect someone lost a vote to Texas? From there, we get into the games themselves: shot put, pole vaulting, long jumping, running, crossing hurtles and various throwing events (javelin and hammer throwing) make up the first half of the film. All gloriously shot by Ichikawa, who focused more on the artistic integrity of his finished product, rather than the actual competitions themselves. Like Riefenstahl's Olympia twenty seven years earlier, athletes tend to resemble moving works of art, as they flow through the air in events like the pole vault or even the gymnastic events. Spectacularly sculpted human bodies, the finest of athletes competing for grandeur on display here for the purposes of artistry as opposed to sportsmanship. We round out the whole thing with a marathon run won by Abebe Bikila who runs BAREFOOT! The shots of the runner's blistered feet as two plus hour event came to a close were cringe worthy.
This is how I like my Olympics, thank you very much. I've always been sort of fascinated with the concept of the Olympic games: a series of sporting events, the origins of which can be traced back hundreds of years, with even the modern games being over one century old, with competitors from all over the world converging on one major city every four years to see who is the best. I mean, doesn't that just sound great?! However, watching them as they air on television proves more difficult for this reviewer, as I've never been much of a sports guy. Oh I can handle certain events (volleyball comes to mind as a fun one to catch live), but ultimately it's never been something I can completely get behind. However, Ichikawa's 1965 documentary I'm left wishing that every Olympics could be directed by him and transformed into a beautiful amalgamation of art and sports. I know it sounds like three hours worth of watching people run, jump, swim, fence and shoot would be boring, but it's the exact opposite and don't ask me why, but I'm always left thinking I could've watched even more (with both this and Riefenstahl's film). Seriously though, if they had a series of these on DVD, where you could watch every Olympics like this, I'd totally buy into that and check them all out. Think about it, you cut out all the boring stuff, you bring in someone who knows how to accentuate actions, movement and the human form (like a movie director) and you get about three hours of the opening ceremonies, closing ceremonies and all of the breath taking moments in between, including comprehensive showing of the winners and their gold medal acceptance.
Keep an eye out for that walking race, as the music turns from smooth, classic jazz to something out of a Three Stooges montage and it's obvious that this event was even being snickered at by the director, who obviously had high respect for these events otherwise. The rules are you can only have one foot off the ground at a time and we're left with a bunch of really tired looking guys, who are making themselves look a lot older and a lot more foolish than they probably actually are. Other key events to keep your eyes peeled for are the gymnastic and pole vaulting events, simply for artistic purposes and the final marathon is one big salute to sportsmanship, competition and what the games are really all about.
RATING: 7.5/10 I went '10' for Riefenstahl's vision of the 1936 Berlin games, but that was probably way too generous. As much as I really liked this, I can't justify giving it anymore than a solid '7.5', which is nothing to sneeze at.