Review of Tokyo Olympiad (1965)

Moving picture, 170 minutes

Seen in 2019.

The 1964 summer Olympic games.

As expected, the film celebrates the spirit of international communion, and it does so without over-emphasizing the successes of Japanese athletes in these games. The most extensive portraits are of men from Chad and Ethiopia. Still, the perspective is clearly coloured by nationalism and exoticism. The camera dwells on pretty non-Japanese women, including the USSR’s Laine Erik, whom the narrator characterizes as “shōnen no yō na bishōjo” (a “boy-like beautiful girl”), as if that explained her presence.

It’s an experiment in form. Some of the incidental footage is as invasive as the description of Erik, including close-ups of neck waddle, part of a general interest in the range of human physique and physicality. Similarly faceless shots add visual interest to sporting events, which are otherwise uniformly boring. Analogue technical limits are apparent: One of the many shots of the sun is noticeably shaky and the helicopter work is clearly inferior to the drone shots of 50 years later. The occasional slow motion is subtle and humane; it does not prefigure Zack Snyder’s technophilia.

moving picture non-fiction Japanese production