Review by Michael Jacobson
Audio: Dolby Digital Mono
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 170 Minutes
Release Date: July 30, 2002
four years marks the return of the summer Olympic games, and for each one in the
modern era, a film has been commissioned of picture makers in the event’s host
country to preserve that year’s games for posterity.
Most of these films haven’t amounted to much, but two in particular
remain landmarks of cinema history. One,
of course, is the 1936 movie Olympia, made by Leni Riefenstahl as both a
documentary of the event and as a world showcase for Adolph Hitler’s Germany.
second is Kon Ichikawa’s Tokyo Olympiad, which captured the spirit,
fun, intensity and sportsmanship of the 1964 games.
Japan, who had never hosted an Olympics before (neither had the continent
of Asia, for that matter), and had even been denied participation in London’s
event years back because of their World War II involvement, really found an
opportunity to shine before the eyes of the world in 1964.
Their citizens were wonderful hosts, the city was beautiful and proud,
and many of the games over the two-week course would go down as some of
history’s most memorable.
is a film that has sadly always been butchered for U.S. release, with its mighty
running time of 170 minutes pretty much halved, leaving Ichikawa’s bold,
exciting vision severely truncated. When
I learned Criterion was going to be releasing it on disc, I didn’t even ask
about the running time…I didn’t have to. Criterion has never let down movie buffs before, so I
considered it no surprise that Tokyo Olympiad would be back to its
original length, and in widescreen to boot…trust me, this is not a film you
want to see outside of its intended scope ratio.
be daunted by said running time…this is a film filled with energy, emotion,
and human spirit, and the running time flies by.
For those who have ever watched the Olympics on television for hours at
an end, this is a concept you can appreciate.
The movie takes us from the construction of Tokyo’s fabulous stadium to
the running of the torch and the athletes’ arrivals, all the way to the quiet
aftermath and conclusion. And of
course, in between are the games.
brilliant use of scope widescreen photography makes for an exciting way to watch
the Olympics. The camerawork that
he and his crew instigated was impeccable…in most cases, you couldn’t have
asked for better framing from staged events, let alone live ones.
He gets us close to the action, and keeps us at the same speed as the
competitors…chances are, you’ll have never felt so close to being in the
are many high points, starting with the 100 meter dash, in which American Robert
Hayes became the first Olympian to run it in ten seconds flat.
Even those these events are a part of history now, I won’t give away
other winners and possibly spoil for you the pleasure that was mine in watching
these games fresh as if they were new. But
there are many records broken and many standards raised over the course of
1964’s event. Other high marks include a grueling 9 hour pole vault
competition, a seemingly in-the-bag volleyball final that suddenly turns very
interesting, and the finale of the 10,000 meter race. The latter is memorable because of a lone contestant left
running the track after the winners were long since in the books.
As he completed his final lap for last place, the crowds cheer for him as
though he were taking the gold…a wonderful display of enthusiasm!
knows that the athletes are the stars…he gets us close to them at their most
crucial moments. We see their
intensity, their confidence, their worry; we share in their triumphs and
heartbreaks. Best of all, we see
the all around sense of sportsmanship and camaraderie between competitors.
It’s nice to believe that for two weeks every four years, countries can
put political and ideological differences aside and simply compete side by side
with pride, honor and dignity.
don’t believe there will ever be another real sports movie like Tokyo
Olympiad, which captures something much more than just games, results and
statistics. It’s a complete
artistic package of athleticism, human emotion, and the pride of a great city
coming together to make for one of the Olympics’ finest years ever.
the age of the movie and the general lack of film preservation in Asia,
Criterion offers an Olympic-sized effort with this glorious transfer.
This is a film filled with color, spectacle, and minute details picked
out of a macrocosm of an event, and none of Ichikawa’s original vision is
marred here. Colors are bright,
natural and plentiful, images are sharp, clear and well rendered with superb
definition, and the print itself is in remarkable shape.
Yes, there are a few instances of noticeable wear here and there, but for
a film of this length, they are considerably few and far between, and never a
has a knack for making mono soundtracks seem like so much more than they are.
The audio for this film is clear and dynamic.
The quiet moments as individuals prepare for their events contrast nicely
with the lively roar of the crowds at other times.
Ichikawa often uses sound for great effect…during one hurdle race, he
kills the audio entirely, except for one competitor accidentally hitting a
hurdle, which comes through with a hearty crash.
A bit of license on his part, maybe, but one that enhances the film
rather than detracts from it. High
main features on the disc are a terrific running commentary by Peter Cowie and a
1992 half-hour interview with Kon Ichikawa.
Cowie is no stranger to Criterion buffs, but here, he proves
extra-insightful, as he is not only a renowned film historian, but a confessed
Olympics buff. His comments and
knowledge provide an excellent alternate track. The interview with Ichikawa is low-key but interesting as he
shares his thoughts on what he hoped to accomplish with this movie and how.
I don’t normally consider the booklet part of the features, Criterion has
outdone themselves with this rather heavy volume, containing liner notes by
famed sports writer George Plimpton, a reprint of the Symposium on Tokyo
Olympiad discussing the movie and the sometimes controversial Ichikawa, plus
a handy reference guide to all the medal winners of the 1964 Olympics.