Tôkyô Orimpikku (1965) (Tokyo Olympiad)
Kon Ichikawa


Tokyo OlympiadCommissioned by Japan’s national Olympic committee during the Summer Olympics of 1964, Tokyo Olympiad (1965) is a study in forms. Covering the event end-to-end – from the opening to the closing ceremony – Kon Ichikawa’s film is preoccupied with the filmic form as an end in itself, indifferent to if not independent of its ostensible subject. This stance is highly befitting of the project as well, for what are the Olympic Games if not the pure form of war, emptied of all its teleology and historico-political foundation? Each of the sport is filmed, edited and scored with a different style and rhythm, as though trying to develop an impressionistic portrait of the game. Ichikawa is excited by movement and by speed, by an athletic manoeuvre and by a show of sheer force, by the elegance of a gymnastic move and the animality of a shot put throw. His fascination is not with the perfection and beauty of the human body, as it might have been to Leni Riefenstahl, but with the grace of its movement and with the skill it’s capable of. Even when he is fixated on an isolated body part, as is the case with the oscillating derriere of an athlete in a walking event, the interest is less in the anatomical details than with the form of its motion through space and time. Ichikawa, as it were, is proposing why “Citius, Altius, Fortius” could well apply to the medium he is working with too. He also takes the spirit of the Olympics from the outside to the inside, from the frenzy of a mass sport to the simmering moods of an individual. He mystifies by distance, by covering the athletes from a distance and with a brooding voiceover which makes them come across like Zen monks (a stratagem that Chris Marker would employ in his film on Kurosawa). He captures their little quirks, their absurd superstitions and their emotional fragility in vivid detail, which acts as the perfect foil to the extreme physicality of the rest of the film.