‘Tokyo 2020 Aspect B’: Behind the scenes of the ‘pandemic Olympics’


The Olympics have lengthy been documented on movie, beginning when cameramen recorded early Twentieth-century Video games for posterity. It was German director Leni Riefenstahl, nonetheless, who was the primary to raise what had as soon as been plodding newsreels of ceremonies and competitions into visible artwork together with her 1938 two-part documentary concerning the 1936 Berlin Olympics, “Olympia.”

Whereas celebrating Aryan magnificence and beauty to the delight of her Nazi employers, Riefenstahl additionally introduced drama and pleasure to her movie of the Video games, most notably within the sequences illustrating the triumphs of Black American monitor star Jesse Owens.

Now, Japanese director Naomi Kawase has produced one other two-part documentary, this time on the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Video games, which had been held in 2021 after being postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Much like Riefenstahl, who by no means shook off her status as Adolf Hitler’s go-to director, Kawase has discovered herself embroiled in controversy. Not solely has she been criticized as an apologist for the Tokyo Video games, which had been opposed by a big portion of the general public indignant about huge funds overruns and anxious about the specter of mass coronavirus infections (that, luckily, didn’t materialize), tales about her alleged ill-treatment of workers have appeared in Japanese and worldwide media.

Official Movie of the Olympic Video games Tokyo 2020 Aspect B (Tokyo 2020 Orinpikku Aspect B)
Run Time 123 minutes.
Language Japanese
Opens June 24

The director is nonetheless a revered and welcomed common on the Cannes Movie Pageant, the place the primary half, “Official Movie of the Olympic Video games Tokyo 2020 Aspect A,” had its world premiere on Could 22. The movie, nonetheless, generated comparatively little buzz from that screening and dissatisfied on the Japanese field workplace, not even making the weekend prime 10 checklist after its June 3 launch.

The movie’s second half, “Official Movie of the Olympic Video games Tokyo 2020 Aspect B,” opens on June 24. On Tuesday, Kawase appeared on the International Correspondents’ Membership of Japan in Tokyo for a press convention following a screening of the movie. She was joined by South Sudanese runner Guem Abraham and Okinawan politician and Olympic torch bearer Satoru Miyazato, each of whom seem in “Aspect B.”

Unsurprisingly, most questions had been directed at Kawase, who stoutly defended her imaginative and prescient for the movie, which was shot over a interval of 750 days, together with the one-year postponement. “It turned out utterly completely different from what we had deliberate,” she stated. “That’s why I felt I needed to make a ‘Aspect A’ and ‘B.’ I felt I needed to depict what was occurring in all the time interval, together with the views of those that labored onerous to make the Olympics occur and people who opposed them, quite than a traditional Olympic documentary movie that focuses solely on the athletes.”

Due to this fact, in “Aspect B” the competitions, which unfold in venues eerily devoid of spectators as a consequence of coronavirus restrictions, are principally glimpsed in passing. As a substitute, the movie options up-close appears at people concerned within the Video games, from Worldwide Olympics Committee president and one-time Olympic fencer Thomas Bach, seen playfully sparring with a Japanese athlete, to the top groundskeeper of the principle Olympic stadium, who tells an interviewer, “It will be great if the athletes may give their finest performances on my grass.”

The movie offers voice to those that are lower than enthused about Japan internet hosting the Video games throughout a pandemic and exhibits the quite a few avenue protests dogging the occasion. It additionally airs the frustrations of athletes who’re compelled to delay or abandon their desires after training for years to get in peak situation or, within the case of Abraham and different South Sudanese athletes coaching in Japan, discover themselves in a motivation-draining limbo.

The general tone, nonetheless, is constructive and inspirational, with pictures of torch relay members passing by way of crowds of enthusiastic locals as they wend their method throughout Japan, from tsunami-hit Fukushima Prefecture to the World Warfare II-ravaged village of Zamami in Okinawa Prefecture. In the meantime, officers, athletes and employees categorical their willpower to make the Video games successful.

“COVID made it more durable, however we did it,” says the top of the meals service within the athletes’ village, pleased with the scrumptious-looking pizza and different cafeteria choices.

All through the movie, Kawase inserts signature pictures usually present in her work, corresponding to daylight filtering dreamily by way of bushes and youngsters gazing silently skyward, to specific the bonds between nature and humanity, current and eternity. “I used to be requested to make an Olympic movie that solely I may make,” she stated on the press convention. “Taking that into consideration, I spent three and a half years placing all my expertise as a movie director into it.”

The Olympic ceremonies and competitions, which unfold in venues devoid of spectators due to coronavirus restrictions, are mostly glimpsed in passing in Naomi Kawase’s 'Official Film of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 Side B.' | © 2022-INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE-ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
The Olympic ceremonies and competitions, which unfold in venues devoid of spectators as a consequence of coronavirus restrictions, are principally glimpsed in passing in Naomi Kawase’s ‘Official Movie of the Olympic Video games Tokyo 2020 Aspect B.’ | © 2022-INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE-ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The tip end result, nonetheless, feels oddly shapeless and inordinately busy as a consequence of a blizzard of element — aural and visible — that results in an info overload regardless of the organizing gadget of an on-screen countdown to the opening day.

One distinction is Kon Ichikawa’s celebrated 1965 documentary “Tokyo Olympiad,” which options big-picture themes, starting with the emergence of Japan because the host of a serious worldwide occasion lower than twenty years after its defeat in WWII, but in addition memorably highlights people, corresponding to a lonely-but-determined runner from the brand new nation of Chad competing in each his and his nation’s first-ever Olympics. Kawase’s “Aspect B” principally provides fast sketches — some vivid, others a mere blur — quite than in-depth portraits, with exceptions together with its intimate view of organizing committee head Yoshiro Mori mulling his resignation after backlash over sexist remarks.

That stated, the sheer complexity of the trendy Video games, with their welter of occasions and gamers, defy simplification. Additionally, given the succession of scandals and controversies in addition to the impression of the pandemic, the kind of athlete-focused movie Ichikawa made six a long time in the past would now really feel insufficient and incomplete.

Kawase thus deserves credit score for shepherding this next-to-impossible undertaking to completion and, within the end-roll, crediting her dozens of “co-directors” who ran the cameras.

“Wanting again to a yr in the past, when the state of emergency was declared and 80% of the inhabitants was towards the Video games, it might have been simpler to surrender,” she advised reporters. “However I used to be pleased to have been capable of doc the torch relay in Zamami village and the truth that we didn’t hand over. We did it for the way forward for our kids.”

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