Blu-ray Review: Tokyo Olympiad (Criterion Collection)

An epic portrait of athletes’ will to succeed, Kon Ichikawa’s Tokyo Olympiad is a beautiful, if unconventional documentary of the 1964 Summer Olympic games in Tokyo, Japan. Every Olympiad commissions an official film, and most are interchangeable rundowns of who won what, with an occasional celebration of a particularly well-known athlete. Ichikawa instead, focused on the humanity sport. Resisting the Japanese governments expectation that it would focus on glorifying Japan’s postwar reconstruction, and act as a reintroduction to the world as an economic power. Shots of Japanese pride are memorable–Wrecking balls tearing down old buildings to make way for the new Olympic stadium, an Olympic torch bearer in the foreground of Mt. Fuji.

Ichikawa had an enormous staff–100 cameras operated by 164 cameramen, who shot more than 74 hours of footage, of which Ichikawa personally supervised the editing down to 170 minutes. A visual marvel, viewers will exalt in Bob Hayes’ final serge in the 400-meter relay; or Billy Mills’ spectacular finish in the 10,000. Just as amazing is the sheer will to compete. Cameras capture determination, as the last runner staggers to the finish line, hours after Mills. Gaunt, and appearing to lurch toward the finish line, it’s not pretty, but when you consider the personal toll, no less impressive than the medal winners.

Ichikawa uses several techniques–revolutionary at the time–to try and bring the experience of the Olympics to viewers. It may seem a cliché here in 2020 (only because it’s been copied so much in the intervening years), his use of slow motion shots takes us right into competition with the athletes, whether it’s the beautiful athleticism of gymnastics, or every flex of a runners leg. You are made to feel like you are part of the action.

At various points, Ichikawa employs black and white, freeze frames, and several dissolves. The soundtrack is an interesting mix of material from mood music to Western Jazz to choral music. While some of Ichikawa’s choices could be considered to artistic for a sports film, it works here because of his desire to show the human side of sport.

Advertised as a “New 4K digital restoration,” this 1080 presentation in the 2.39:1 aspect ratio looks terrific all around. The image is consistently sharp, with details available from every possible angle, given the incredible clarity. A nice layer of grain gives the film a textured look. The colors look natural, along with the skin tones.

Most impressive perhaps, is the uncompressed monaural soundtrack, which highlights the use of isolated audio tracks to great effect during the athletic events. Everything sounds clean and precise in the event, while the Crowd noises are nicely separated. Dialogue is clean, clear and concise throughout.

English SDH subtitles are included.

The Tokyo Olympiad disc in 100 Years of Olympic Films is barebones, it’s wonderful that this individual release restores all of extras from Criterion’s long out of print 2002 DVD, as well as adds a number of new extras:

  • Audio Commentary with Film Historian Peter Cowie: Recorded in 2001.
  • New Introduction to the Film By Peter Cowie (HD, 11:20) Recorded exclusively for Criterion in January, 2020.
  • Over eighty minutes of additional material from the Tokyo Games, with a new introduction by Cowie.
  • Archival Interviews with Director Kon Ichikawa (HD, 8:18, 3:14, 32:10)
  • New Documentary About Kon Ichikawa (HD, 30:54) Produced by the Criterion Collection.
  • New Interview with Restoration Producer Adrian Wood (HD, 6 :54)
  • Trailers (HD, 3:47) Two vintage trailers.
  • Leaflet: An illustrated leaflet featuring an essay by critic James Quandt

Tokyo Olympiad (Criterion Collection) (1965)
Tokyo Olympiad

Movie title: Tokyo Olympiad (Criterion Collection)

Country: JPN

Duration: 171 min

Director(s): Kon Ichikawa

Genre: Foreign, Documentary, Sport

  • Movie
  • Video
  • Audio
  • Extras
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