155 Tokyo Olympiad

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Martha
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155 Tokyo Olympiad

#1 Post by Martha » Sat Feb 12, 2005 10:11 pm

Tokyo Olympiad

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A spectacle of magnificent proportions, Kon Ichikawa's Tokyo Olympiad ranks among the greatest documents of sport ever committed to film. Utilizing glorious widescreen cinematography, Ichikawa examines the beauty and rich drama on display at the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo, creating a catalogue of extraordinary observations that range from the expansive to the intimate. The glory, despair, passion, and suffering of Olympic competition are rendered with lyricism and technical mastery, culminating in an inspiring testament to the beauty of the human body and the strength of the human spirit.

Special Features

- New high-definition digital transfer, enhanced for 16x9 televisions
- Audio commentary by film historian Peter Cowie
- Liner notes by legendary sports writer George Plimpton
- Complete list of winners in all events
- Symposium on Tokyo Olympiad, excerpted from the Cinematheque Ontario book Kon Ichikawa
- New and improved English subtitle translation
- Optimal image quality: RSDL dual-layer edition

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exte
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#2 Post by exte » Sun Feb 13, 2005 5:41 pm

This is Matt's old post from the ezboard, courtesy of Google's cache:
In reputation, Kon Ichikawa's "Tokyo Olympiad" is overshadowed by Leni Riefenstahl's "Olympia", but this is a shame. While the two films share a subject, they could not be more different. Like Riefenstahl's film, Ichikawa's 1965 documentary of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics is a document not just of an event but also of a time and place and a culture. Unlike Riefenstahl's film, which makes the athletes appear godlike and the spectators appear like reverent worshippers (when they are glimpsed at all), Ichikawa's film is first and foremost a film about people. Spectators are given a great amount of screen time and the nature of the relationship between athlete and spectator is explored. In this sense, "Tokyo Olympiad" can be called a humanist documentary.

The controversy over Ichikawa's approach to filming the games as he did has been better documented than I can here, but it will suffice to say that Ichikawa preferred to let the sports and the actions of their athletes in them speak for themselves as opposed to attempting a play-by-play report of the games or attending to star athletes and medal winners at the expense of the rest of the competitors. Ichikawa rarely focuses on a single athlete. Indeed, in many events depicted in the film, the names of the athletes are not even mentioned. Instead, he combines shots of athletes in preparation for their event, performing in the event, checking their scores or distances, and recovering from the event with shots of jubilant and anxious spectators. Ichikawa rarely turns his cameras on the scores of the event unless they have set a record of some sort - instead he is concerned with the possibilities of the human body to soar in the air during a high jump, the power of the human legs to run 100 meters in ten seconds, or the intense concentration and coordination required for sharp shooting. In many shots, the body part most involved in the event is the focus of the bulk of the footage of the event - legs running in a sprint, arms thrusting forth a shot put, and shoulders struggling to stay off the mat in a wrestling match. If you've seen the fascinating Jake Scott-directed Nike "Move" commercial that was shown during the 2002 Winter Olympics, you could say that it was a 90-second distillation of everything that Ichikawa attempted to convey in his film. But the Olympics are not only about the sporting events, which is why Ichikawa includes verite-style (and often quite humorous) segments filmed in the Olympic press room and dining hall and of athletes arriving in Tokyo.

The film techniques and technologies Ichikawa used to create his film were state-of-the-art in 1964. Lightweight Arriflex cameras mounted with fresh-from-the-lab zoom and telephoto lenses and filled with super-fast film stock shot 70 hours of footage from which the filmmakers culled the 170 minutes of the film. Masterfully selected and paced editing, combined with elegant use of the widescreen frame and combinations of extreme close-ups and stately long shots, crisp black and white and grainy color film, and events of strength and endurance alternated with events of swiftness and agility make the film a veritable catalog of virtuoso film technique. One shot in particular of a landscape with Mt. Fuji filling most of the background while the Olympic torchbearer, as tiny as a fly in contrast to the great symbol of Japan, runs slowly across the screen in the foreground is perhaps one of the most beautiful shots in cinema history. Ichikawa's film also shows judicious use of sound. One would expect a documentary on the Olympics to be filed with crowd noise, the grunts and strains of human effort, and the sounds of starter's pistols. All of that is there, but Ichikawa mixes it with subtle, often ethereal music or minimal, yet informative narration, but often dispenses with it altogether to show runners in silence and in slow motion to emphasize the extraordinary skill of the athletes.

The disc:

While this Criterion edition of "Tokyo Olympiad" could not really be considered feature-packed, one of the features it offers is one of the best of its kind. Peter Cowie's full-length, screen-specific commentary is one of the most erudite, informative, and well-researched commentaries I have ever heard. Cowie is a film critic by trade, but this self-described "Olympics buff" knows practically everything about the Olympics - its history, records, athletes, marketing, business history, and politics. It's a fascinating listen, even at nearly three hours. One drawback, perhaps, is that Cowie spends most of his time talking about the Olympics, past and present, at the expense of discussing the actual film in question. He compares the 1964 Tokyo games with the 2000 Sydney games, which demonstrates just how much the Olympics have changed as well as how much they have stayed the same, but I fear that his comments will not age well, especially after the 2004 Athens games. The sheer amount of knowledge brought forth by Cowie might be a little overwhelming for those viewers who don't really follow the Olympics, but the other special feature, a 32-minute 1992 interview with Ichikawa might be better suited to those who would prefer to hear about the filmmaking. One can't exactly say that the interview is scintillating - it's mostly a single shot of Ichikawa framed in almost extreme close-up (quite jarring if you have a large screen TV) and it's all in Japanese (subtitled of course) - but it is informative.

The transfer is flawless - colors are sharp and images are crisp and the film element seems to have been preserved perfectly. Some might complain that the film appears too grainy or that the image is not as vibrant as it should be. These, however, are limitations of the extremely fast film stock needed to shoot these events outdoors and often in low light or rainy conditions. I actually like seeing film grain, so I enjoyed immensely the way the film looks. Live sound is a little on the tinny side, but again is to be expected with the equipment necessary to shoot in these conditions.

There are chapter stops for each event, even if they go on for one minute or several. I appreciated this feature because it allowed me to go back and see those events that I particularly enjoy.

If you're a fan of the Olympics or of documentary filmmaking, I see no reason why you wouldn't enjoy this film. It's a one-of-a-kind film and, with the prevalence of ratings-driven news departments and overly selective sports coverage these days, it's the kind of thing you're not likely to see made again.

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#3 Post by DDillaman » Sun Feb 13, 2005 5:57 pm

The miracle of TOKYO OLYMPIAD, as Matt notes, is in its representation of the world of sport as something beautiful rather than as a competition. I can't be bothered watching sports on TV (including the Olympics), but even for people who "hate sports", this is something else remarkable and wonderful.

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zedz
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#4 Post by zedz » Sun Feb 13, 2005 6:25 pm

Ditto.

Regular Olympics footage has me climbing the walls, but Ichikawa's film is a triumph of pure cinema. His choices are consistently inspired and surprising, and you find yourself hanging out for each new sequence wondering how he's going to tackle it (oh, that shadows-and-sparkling-light rowing footage!). The disc is a real thing of beauty. At times it seems like an extended love letter to the telephoto lens.

And Peter Cowie demonstrates that, when he has enough material at hand, he can deliver excellent commentary.

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#5 Post by skuhn8 » Sat May 14, 2005 7:31 am

Add me to the list of non-sports fans who enjoy this film immensely. I can watch world cup soccar or go to a hockey game...but just can't understand sitting in front of the tv for hours watching almost nothing happen during baseball or American football games, or the 100+ hoop action of basketball (raise the rim already!). Bores the hell out of me...but Tokyo Olympiad is pure bliss. I wish every Olympic Games could be encapsulated in a three hour montage like this. Would make it bearable and especially without all the sponsor crap all over the place.

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#6 Post by dx23 » Sat May 14, 2005 11:58 am

but just can't understand sitting in front of the tv for hours watching almost nothing happen during baseball or American football games, or the 100+ hoop action of basketball (raise the rim already!).
Being a former basketball and baseball player, I can sit in front of the tv and watch these sports endlessly because I see the beauty of it, although i agree its not for everyone. And if the powers that be raised the rim in the NBA, then it will become the WNBA in style of play and look how unsuccessful those group of women have been in trying to produce entertaining games based only on fundamentals. Raising the rim is like taking the sizzle out of the steak.
I wish every Olympic Games could be encapsulated in a three hour montage like this.
I agree with you on this, but the fact is that there are too many sports these days to be put on a 3 hour montage. I for one, I'm anxiously awaiting for a montage of the 1992 US Basketball Team with Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, where this guys where similar to rock stars and their popularity and team play were beyond awesome. I would also like to see this documentaries in the eyes of countries other than the US.

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exte
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#7 Post by exte » Sat May 14, 2005 12:50 pm

dx23 wrote:I agree with you on this, but the fact is that there are too many sports these days to be put on a 3 hour montage. I for one, I'm anxiously awaiting for a montage of the 1992 US Basketball Team with Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, where this guys where similar to rock stars and their popularity and team play were beyond awesome. I would also like to see this documentaries in the eyes of countries other than the US.
I went to Greece last summer and saw a lot of the Olympic games on TV there - judo being my favorite - and saw wrestling in person with my uncle from Athens. He loves Michael Jordan. We actually talked about the 1992 Olympics, and he said it will be never be repeated. He would raise one finger, saying there is only one Michael Jordan, and there will never be another one like him. He loved the Chicago Bulls, and loved the "Dream Team." He even had a multi-vhs set of the 1992 games, but we never had time to watch them... So, yeah, I think fandom for the 1992 games and Michael Jordan extends way beyond the US, of course...

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#8 Post by david hare » Mon May 16, 2005 5:11 am

Speaking of, surely one of the only sports movies worth watching is Olympia. Not least because Leni has a nice eye for hunks and jockstraps. (My personal fave moment of sporting activity is Ty Hardin playing Goofball on the beach to catch "artist's", Glenys John' eye in Cukor's Chapman Report. )

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#9 Post by colinr0380 » Tue May 24, 2005 8:36 am

I'm not a big fan of sports myself and understand the idea that sport is a societal way of preparing society for war through non-lethal competitiveness (from seeing documentaries like Hearts and Minds and Manufacturing Consent where a good case is made for this point of view), as well as a method of distracting people from getting involved in things like politics or their community etc, and giving fans mountains of esoteric team statistics, player information etc that they can analyse and make sense out of.

But then this idea is not limited only to sport - you could argue that all art is a form of control. That by wanting to get the latest film, to get the latest DVD is a form of distracting people from more 'important' issues.

Or hobbies - why spend six weeks making a matchstick model of the Tower of London, making a model railway, or sewing, or drawing?

But while this is a very interesting factor - it is interesting how these things are promoted as interesting, while politics is made to seem so dull and grey, there is the feeling that the people involved in politics are trying to do you a favour by sacrificing themselves to this profession (!) - these activities have an intrinsic value in themselves. Looked at practically these activities are not done for a greater goal, but more for the pleasure of the activity itself.

You can have amazing works of art, feel like you have learned something from a book or a film or a new skill by building a model and can be impressed by the achievement of an athlete in their sport.

These activities can also allow an individual to get involved with others of like interests and to set themselves goals (whether it is for their team to win a game, to try and get themselves fit, to try to get the whole Criterion Collection, or to see that recent 7 hour Hungarian film all the way through without falling asleep!) and develop themselves (I don't do much sewing but I've heard that doing a good French knot is an skill in itself!), and it gives a good shorthand to get a conversation going with others if you have a common interest.

So I guess I'm in the middle of this - rabid fanaticism can be very irritating if you don't share an interest - I have no interest in sport so most of the conversations in my office are beyond me, and I'm often amazed at how a game can inspire violence between fans (although I think drink is a cause as well!) But on the other hand I'm sure I've bored and irritated many people in my time by talking too much about the latest film I'm trying to find or how great I find the films of Bruno Dumont!

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#10 Post by david hare » Wed May 25, 2005 4:15 am

Personally speaking (he said) I find all sports tragically boring but I DO watch some (Greco-Roman wresttling, Australian Rules, Rugby) for the pure sublimated sexuality.

One FTA channel here used to show locker room scenes, after the game until a lawsuit in the mid eighties from one of the players depicted in nudo flagrante with what the ozzies call "budgie shrink". He won the lawsuit BTW.)

At least Leni gets one thing right and executes an excellent mise-en scene in the process. The camera's slow and determined observation of the human body in motion (I suppose she is the reductio ad absurdum of "pictorialism" but I still watch her movies.)

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#11 Post by HistoryProf » Tue Nov 28, 2006 11:55 pm

I'm surprised at the attitudes towards sports here, but then again I guess I shouldn't be shocked at the lack of sport fans on a board full of cinephiles :wink:

That said, i'm using this film in my Sport history course right now as I have them reading about the Olympics and think this gives an incredible look into the games. It really is a thing of beauty. I do agree that modern Olympic coverage is dreadfully overwrought, so it is nice to simply see the athletes do what they do best here. The marathon is particularly engrossing.

I considered showing it with Cowie's commentary going...but it was almost TOO much info and I thought it detracted from the experience. It did feel a bit dated already with his focus on the "upcoming" Athens games.

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#12 Post by Narshty » Wed Nov 29, 2006 3:33 pm

Yes, but then again, who else is as willing to pad out his commentary with what he's read in the morning paper?

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#13 Post by jmj713 » Tue Apr 17, 2007 4:46 pm

Also, we wanted to let you know that our special edition of Kon Ichikawa's astonishing documentary Tokyo Olympiad is now out of print. If you haven't yet seen it, check with your favorite retailers there may be a few copies left!

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#14 Post by sevenarts » Tue Apr 17, 2007 5:00 pm

Anyone know why? New edition coming, or did they just lose the rights?

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#15 Post by Scharphedin2 » Tue Apr 17, 2007 5:01 pm

Does anyone have any idea, whether the film is going out of print due to a lapse of rights, or, because Criterion is preparing it for a remaster/reissue?

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#16 Post by Cinephrenic » Tue Apr 17, 2007 5:08 pm

I don't see how they can remaster this 2-disc set?

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#17 Post by balzer » Tue Apr 17, 2007 5:16 pm

I bet they don't have the license anymore. They have not ever announced a title to go out of print then reissue it later. The always say there is a reissue coming or just announce the reissue.

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#18 Post by Musashi219 » Tue Apr 17, 2007 5:23 pm

Just ordered myself a copy from DVDPlanet. Was always a fan of this documentary, just never expected it go OOP, especially with the recent Ichikawa additions to the Collection.

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#19 Post by CSM126 » Tue Apr 17, 2007 5:37 pm

Cinephrenic wrote:I don't see how they can remaster this 2-disc set?
2?

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#20 Post by cdnchris » Tue Apr 17, 2007 5:43 pm

I thought the transfer was fine enough, so I can't see them redoing it and can't see what else they would throw on it if they did re-release it as 2-discer. I'm guessing it's simply OOP.

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#21 Post by Ashirg » Tue Apr 17, 2007 8:18 pm

I wonder if they will re-release it with a second abbreviated 148 Minute director's cut that Ichikawa released in 2005.

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#22 Post by manicsounds » Tue Apr 17, 2007 10:00 pm

I asked Criterion that question in 2005 when the Director's Cut was released in Japan. They said they had no plans on that. I don't really see the marketing strategy here, I haven't seen the DC, which is shorter than the theatrical and remastered in 5.1

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HerrSchreck
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#23 Post by HerrSchreck » Tue Apr 17, 2007 11:55 pm

Cinephrenic wrote:I don't see how they can remaster this 2-disc set?
You may just have left the word "as" out between "this" & "2", but if not, this is a one disc set. The transfer is pitch perfect-- the higher-than-normal grain ratio is a result of the stock used. A great package in all depts that I can't see them bettering.

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#24 Post by blindside8zao » Wed Apr 18, 2007 1:27 am

hmm... out of stock in most places. I had to order this one on half.com.

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#25 Post by colinr0380 » Wed Apr 18, 2007 10:43 am

The news is a shame and looks like it was timed badly, as I also thought that the two Ichikawa discs would increase interest in Tokyo Olympiad. This is one of my favourite films Criterion has released (the run from 140 to 200 for me is the best in the Collection so far). Also with the Beijing Olympics only next year it seems strange that this disc should be going out of print at this particular time when there might be the chance of people rediscovering it.

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