The 1964 Olympics was supposed to be Japan’s “We’re Here!” moment, not much different than China in 2008. The first time that Western television got to see the country that was nearly incinerated twenty years before this moment. With over 150 cameras utilized and director Kon Ichikawa’s relentless pursuit of presenting the Olympics in an artistic frame, the film is incredibly humbling and humanizing. On one hand there is the pressure of the nation on all the Japanese athletes, desperate to impress and show the world that their nation can win. On the other hand, the film reveres the emotions of athletes as feet blur together, faces clench, feet pound the pavement. Somehow these aren’t just the best athletes in the world, they are humans as well.
The two clips above are a great demonstration of the skill of Ichikawa. Our “modern” Olympics are watered down by contemporary media. The modern television network dictates the pace via interviews, commentary, specific camera angles and relentless coverage. Ethiopian marathon champion Abebe is seemingly escorted through the streets of Tokyo into the Olympic stadium while the poor Japanese runner carries the the burden of the national flag and expectation in every step. Similarly, the almost poetic, romantic nature of the gymnastics routines oscillate in meaning. The womens routines flow with elegance (as opposed to a hyper-workout) while Yuki Endo of Japan kills the bar to secure gold for his country. A great demonstration of the will of mankind and how film can speak to us on so many levels.