Well, it’s final.

2020 Olympic will be held in Tokyo.

Now, it’s buzzing everywhere; from internet to TV to coffee shops: who will direct the opening ceremony? It will be very hard to top London, they say. Hayao Miyazaki? Well, he announced his retirement from animation, but not from anything else. How about Anno? Well, Katsuhiro Otomo must be the man, since his AKIRA predicted 2020 Tokyo Olympic, in dystopian universe.

This is the third time that Tokyo was elected for Olympic games. Many of you film fans may know 1964 Tokyo Olympic from Kon Ichikawa’s epic film, TOKYO OLYMPIAD. That was the second. Tokyo was selected as the 1940 Olympic host city in 1936 only to be canceled later. Ichiro Kono, the member in the Diet Committee, raised the concern whether it was appropriate to host the Olympic game in volatile international political climate at the time. Japanese army was expanding rapidly in Chinese territory at the time, which was condemned by England, United States and other countries. Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937 changed the course of Japanese diplomacy to become more aggressive toward Allies. The nation was preparing for the full-scale war, and ever-reactionary government demanded steel, coal and other vital resources to be reserved for military purposes. In addition, international politics played against the Olympic. England, Australia, Finland and other nations expressed concerns about Japanese military operations in China, which would have definitely hindered Chinese athletes from participating in the games. In 1938, IOC decided Tokyo games were to be canceled, and Helsinki would host it instead. However, in 1940, it became apparent that it was no longer able to open any games in any city, since World War II had began in the previous year.

1964 Tokyo Olympic was the defining moment in postwar Japan. It has become the symbol of resurrection of New Japan, industrialized, mechanized, civilized and moreover, pacified. Kon Ichikawa’s film, TOKYO OLYMPIAD, signifies such ideas, emphasizing the joy of athletic games in peace and beauty of human activities were captured in one of the most dazzling cinematic achievement. There was a back-stage story that the first choice for the director of Olympic documentary was Akira Kurosawa. However, it was apparent from the start that Kurosawa would have skyrocketed its budget, commanded more than 200 cinematographers (which would have shut down Japanese film industry for an entire year), and consumed tons of film stock, which might have took many years to sought out.

After its completion, the film was shown to the selected members of Education Ministry and the Diet. Ichiro Kono (yes, the same guy as above) didn’t like it, disparaging it as “incomprehensible”. He said it was not the faithful record of the games and he was going to have it remade by another director. The actress Hideko Takamine was upset upon hearing this, and demanded a meeting with Kono. She took the director Ichikawa along to persuade Kono not to scrap the film. Kono finally gave in unwillingly. It was sensationally splashed across the newspaper headlines at the time, “Art or Record?”. (I think that the debate was more on the aspect of “recording” the event, rather than making a “documentary”.) The film is not the record of game results, almost ignoring the glory of winning. It is more of a document of participants (not only athletes but also all personnel involved in the event), who experienced the moments of “Olympic games”: intense struggles to win, serene prayers to achieve unachievable, or quiet involvement to make it happen. Ichikawa frequently inserted extreme closeups of athletes to show their psychological implosion and physical explosion. Telephoto lenses were so effectively used along with slow motion footages. For many, it must have been a surprise. It is, in fact, somewhat exhausting to sit through this three-hour drama. For some, it must have been just plain boring. In later years, Ichikawa revealed that Kono didn’t like it because the film didn’t cover his favorite games such as horse races. You see, if you keep electing the same person for the Diet for more than two decades, that’s the price you pay.


So far, I haven’t found any mention about the plan for 1940 Olympic documentary. I am skeptical about the existence of the plan, since such an idea wouldn’t have existed before Leni Riefenstahl’s OLYMPIA. Riefenstahl’s film hasn’t been shown in Japan until 1940.

By the way, I have never been in favor of 2020 Tokyo Olympic. Why? If I paraphrase Kono, I have serious doubts about appropriateness of such an event, in the view of unstable domestic economy and volatile situation in Fukushima.