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The Essentials: Tokyo Olympiad (1965)

Kon Ichikawa examines the beauty and rich drama on display at the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo, creating a record of observations that range from the expansive to the intimate. (NR, 168)
Original title: Tôkyô orinpikku


Wednesday, July 17, 2024

7:00 PM

This monthly series showcases essential films everyone should see on the big screen.
The Essentials series is Free for Members.

A spectacle of magnificent proportions and remarkable intimacy, Kon Ichikawa’s Tokyo Olympiad remains one of the greatest films ever made about sports. Supervising a vast team of technicians using scores of cameras, Ichikawa captured the 1964 Summer Games in Tokyo in glorious widescreen images, using cutting-edge telephoto lenses and exquisite slow motion to create lyrical, idiosyncratic poetry from the athletic drama surging all around him. Drawn equally to the psychology of losers and winners—including the legendary Ethiopian marathoner Abebe Bikila, who receives the film’s most exalted tribute—Ichikawa captures the triumph, passion, and suffering of competition with a singular humanistic vision, and in doing so effected a transformative influence on the art of documentary filmmaking. [Criterion]

Starring: Antonio Ambu, Gary Anderson, Gerry Ashworth
Director: Kon Ichikawa
Language: Japanese
Genres(s): Sports, Documentary

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"Ichikawa's emphasis on shared human experience is compelling."

— Fred Camper, Chicago Reader

"Cinematic and spellbindingly artistic, it is the Koyaanisqatsi of Olympics movies – an exercise of pure, hypnotic splendour."

— James Balmont, BBC (Culture)

"One of the all-time great sports documentaries. Nearly 60 years later, Tokyo Olympiad remains a visual symphony firing on all cylinders."

— Chris Vognar, Vulture

"An epic study of athletes struggling, against their own bodies and each other, to excel. But it reaches even further, as a stirring portrait of fleeting human hopes."

— Desson Thomson, Washington Post

"By plunging us into the action, Ichikawa creates a unique intimacy between athlete and audience. Even after countless hours of watching televised sports, the effect is revelatory."

— Hal Hinson, Washington Post

"The film’s influence on sports photography cannot be overstated, and over 50 years later, it still stands as one of the most thrilling, humane, and unusual sports documentaries ever made."

— Derek Smith, Slant

"[Tokyo Olympiad is] a masterful film that pushes past immersive into something close to transcendent. Ichikawa exhaustively catalogues the 1964 Olympic games, from the flame traveling through the world, to the opening ceremony, through the games themselves. Along the way, every cinematic trick is pulled off, every landing stuck. Breathtaking landscapes, emotive close-ups, stunning slow motion, chaos, quiet, the agony and ecstasy of sport: it's all here and gloriously so."

— Robert Greene, Nonfics