It’s been slightly under a year since I watched the Olympia films. Two German-made propaganda films depicting the 1936 Berlin Olympics where the spectre of Nazism loomed large. By stark contrast we have a post-World War II Japan. A country so scarred by the dropping of the atomic bombs that they have become staunch peace-mongers. I can imagine there being some semblance of outcry at their hosting of the Olympics, but it really was a stroke of genius.
Taking Olympia and Tokyo Olympiad you have two very different ways of looking at the Olympics and, as an extension, humanity. In Olympia you have Leni Riefenstahl’s vision of the athletes as modern day demigods. The picture I chose for my write-up really sums up the vision of that film.
Tokyo Olympiad is the complete opposite. Whilst it is still artistic (albeit not as artistic as Olympia) it is rooted in the idea of celebration and peace. A rather sweet example of this is how much Ichikawa focuses on the team from Chad. This was their first games and, in true Chad style, they did not come close to winning a medal. However, Ichikawa sees past that and uses them as a way to demonstrate the Olympic spirit.
Not that Ichikawa doesn’t build tension. I was transfixed during the footage that he included of the women’s volleyball final between Japan and the USSR. I actually started cheering for the Japanese team, such is the power of sports and the reason why I choose not to follow anyone. Apart from Novak Djokovic. I’ve been following him for nearly 10 years now.
As with Olympia, the athletics make up a substantial part of the footage. However, it felt like the balance of sports was better in Tokyo Olympiad with attention also being paid to fencing, gymnastics, field hockey, 50km walk, sailing and others.
Also, like I said, Ichikawa doesn’t just include footage of victors. In the clips of the women’s shot put there is almost equal attention being paid to the guys out in the field placing flags and sending shot puts back to the athletes. To use a London 2012 phrase, he showed the ‘games makers’ in action. In footage of the marathon you see the people on the lines filling up bottles and soaking sponges. A role just as important as whoever won that particular marathon.
Another thing that puts Tokyo Olympiad ahead of Olympia for me is the setting of Tokyo. There is a bit in the beginning where the flame is going through Hiroshima Peace Park. It just evoked strong feelings being reminded of that incredible honeymoon.
Also great? Tokyo Olympiad is up on YouTube completely legally. So if you wish to watch it… just click below: