Tôkyô Orimpikku (1965) (Tokyo Olympiad)
Kon Ichikawa
Japanese

 

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.

Kon Ichikawa’s An Actor’s Revenge (1963) displays a love-hate relationship – a morbid fascination, why not – with the widescreen. Ichikawa seems to be engaged in a wresting match with the widescreen as the ludicrous plot of the film plods on without shame or scruple. The film opens with an expansive shot of an artificial landscape which is revealed to be a stage after the camera pulls out, as though acknowledging its miscalculation that the 2.35:1 ratio will be wide enough to contain the stage. Of course, the stage we see is too big to be contained by anything, leave alone a letterboxed perspective, because, in An Actor’s Revenge, the world itself is an extension of theatre, where roles have to be played, spaces have to be negotiated and a narrative has to be taken to a tragic yet gratifying closure. Ichikawa points not only at this theatricality of the film’s world with double framing and bracketed compositions – a bizarre ploy that nearly makes it seem like a film shot in Academy Ratio is playing within the Scope film we are watching – but also to the inability to take the play of life to a conclusion, to get off the stage, by consistently revealing its unsurpassable edge, wherein a part of the screen just becomes an inaccessible, immobile wasteland. What is startling about An Actor’s Revenge is that, unlike most widescreen pictures, it does not adopt a single, streamlined aesthetic strategy towards the format. Ichikawa and regular DOP Setsuo Kobayashi tussle with the ratio here, being at times charitable towards it, at times critical and, at times, plain indifferent. At times Ichikawa makes judicious use of the screen space, providing a lot of visual data to process, and at times he just disregards this abundance of space, to the point of blacking it out as if trying to get rid of it. During one moment he is in awe of its generosity and during the other he is mocking its inadequacy. As he indulges himself with the dramatic quality of strong horizontals and verticals, he ends up emulating a lot of aspect ratios, wider and smaller. Sometimes he is excited by the visceral effect of a diagonal across an elongated rectangle, sometimes by the pensiveness of a slanted construction in deep space. Sometimes, he is simply being eccentric.

Widescreen as a stage, Wide screen as a storage space, Widescreen as a notice board, Widescreen as an annexe, Widescreen as a scroll, Widescreen as a ruler, Widescreen as a Swiss army knife, Widescreen as insufficient, Widescreen as excess, Widescreen as useless.

An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge
An Actor's Revenge