Tokyo is no stranger to the delayed Olympics. The 1940 Games were postponed due to this small affair of a world war, while the 2020 Summer Games were postponed due to a once-in-a-century pandemic.
Still, if you’ve been to Tokyo in the past few years, or lived there for a while, you’ll know that all the systems have been put in place to prepare for this event. It’s a global lightning rod that kind of makes you pay attention to sports whether you are athletic or not. Which looks a bit like a sports movie: we tend to find ourselves applauding that we have worked out the rules or the stakes.
The Olympics have spawned countless films over the years, from official records to less official (but no less revered) releases like Cool races. Following in Kon Ichikawa’s footsteps, award-winning filmmaker Naomi Kawase is yet to direct the official “2020” film.
Yet Ichikawa isn’t the only person documenting the 1964 games on film. Indeed, it continues to be a cultural touchstone almost 60 years later. Who knows what films will be made about the Tokyo Summer Games in the decades to come?
Tokyo Olympiad (1965)
Like that of Leni Riefenstahl Olympia, which documented the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Kon Ichikawa’s Tokyo Olympiad recounts the 1964 Summer Olympics with an artistic touch. Unlike Riefenstahl, Ichikawa was not later arrested as a Nazi sympathizer. Unusual for an Olympic film in that it was financially solely by Japan (rather than the International Olympic Committee), it always came up with its own controversies. Although it is now considered a canon documentary, Ichikawa’s flourishes were at odds with the government’s desire for a simple narrative, and he was forced to release a severely cut 93-minute edit in theaters. It also marked the end of his so-called “Natto Wada” period, during which he regularly collaborated with his then-wife. You can now watch the entire 165-minute unedited masterpiece on the official Olympics website.
Walk, Don’t Run (1966)
The movie that ended Cary Grant’s career! Well, sort of. Significant for being Grant’s last screen credit before retiring to spend time with his young daughter, it is also notable for being shot during the recent Tokyo Games. A remake of George Stevens’ war film More the merrier, the merrier (1943), he sees Grant, Samantha Eggar, and Jim Hutton briefly living together in Tokyo due to a housing shortage caused by the Games. Performed more for romantic comedy laughs than anything else, arguably the most famous scene is seeing Grant, 62, stripping down to his boxer shorts and t-shirt to “compete” alongside Hutton and solve his problems. romantic issues.
Brave Courageous (1983)
A biopic on Billy Mills (also known as Tamakoce Te’Hila), a member of the Oglala Lakota tribe located in South Dakota who became the only American (so far) to win the Olympic 10 000 meters at the 64 Games. Despite the title and non-Aboriginal actor Robby Benson in the lead, it’s a pretty balanced portrayal of the athlete and his struggles.
Always: Sunset on Third Street ’64 (2007)
The third film in the Sunset on Third Street series, based on Ryōhei Saigan’s manga series, continues the beloved family saga. As you can probably guess from the title, this one is based on the period leading up to the historic Tokyo Games in 1964. For a series that previously had a cameo of Japanese icon Godzilla, and set at the shadow of Tokyo Tower, it has always been steeped in optimism and family drama. Director Takashi Yamazaki sees this moment as a symbol of post-war optimism – filled with booming technology and rapid reconstruction – and takes a nostalgic, rosy look at a favorite era of baby boomers around the world.
The Athlete (2009)
Another non-Japanese film, this Ethiopian candidacy for the best foreign language film at the 83rd Academy Awards tells the story of Ethiopian marathoner Abebe Bikila. The runner competed as a stranger at the 1960 Games in Rome, blowing the world by competing barefoot, then did it all over again at the 1964 Games in Tokyo. While his later life was beset by tragedy, this film – along with appearances at the Tokyo Olympics and the 1972 documentary The Ethiopians – secures its legacy in popular culture.
From Up There on Poppy Hill (2011)
Not the most obvious of Olympic films, but it’s almost impossible to make a large list of Japanese films without at least Studio Ghibli. Set in Yokohama in 1963, the year before the Olympics arrived in Tokyo, the story is primarily about two teenagers determined not to let the powers that be demolish the old in favor of the new. Filled with the nostalgic leanings that characterize a Ghibli joint, it may not be strictly an Olympic film, but it is filled with all the signs of the Games ahead and takes us back to a time when Japan was going through great economic changes and social. Read the full review.
Witches of the East (2021)
A remarkable story about an equally remarkable team of Japanese volleyball players and their invincibility until their victory at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. Formed in the 1950s, the factory team rose to the world stage with victories at the FIVB Women’s Volleyball World Championship. They became known for their brand kaiten reshûbu, a method of spinning on the court and receiving the ball while rolling. The team’s 258 consecutive wins ended in 1966, but it remains a standing record. Read the full review.