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Tokyo Olympic film debuts in Japan; headed next to Cannes

Stephen Wade & Yuri Kageyama

TOKYO (AP) – The documentary film about the pandemic-delayed Tokyo Olympics premiered yesterday, shown to reporters and other invited guests in the Japanese capital.

The work of Japanese director Naomi Kawase, the 120-minute film looks at the Olympics primarily from the point of view of the athletes – but not just the winning athletes. After Tokyo, the film will be shown tomorrow at the Cannes Film Festival in the Bunuel Theater, named for Spanish-born iconoclastic filmmaker Luis Bunuel.

“The Olympics are not just about getting prizes, being first and going after a victory that is right before you in the moment,” Kawase said in a recent interview. “I tried also to depict the pursuit of becoming winners in life.”

Kawase has also made another film looking at events away from the athletes, which has been called ‘Side B’.

It will debut in Japanese cinemas on June 24. The film shown yesterday will be shown in some Japanese cinemas beginning on June 3.

Japanese film director Naomi Kawase. PHOTO: AP

Kawase said she made the film in two parts because, after the Games were postponed by the pandemic, her subject became too complex.

The film, which is only in Japanese unless speakers are using other languages, focusses much of its attention on athletes from Japan, and female athletes from all over. It also looks at refugee athletes, athletes who have defected, and athletes competing as mothers who brought their infants to games.

The film targets a cross section of sports, particularly judo, softball, surfing, women’s basketball, and skateboarding. For the most part, it steers clear of the medal ceremonies, the flag waving and who won – and who lost – and prioritises the drama of competing.

CEO of the Olympic Broadcasting Services Yiannis Exarchos tried to sum up the mission of the documentary, speaking in the final minutes of the film before the credits rolled.

He said Olympic athletes often “do something completely unexpected. This is a moment of genius. Yes, we need to go through all these exercises in order to be able to see the world in a different way. Even for one millisecond.

The documentary showed flashes of the controversy that dogged the Tokyo Games with scenes of protesters asking for a cancellation, and scenes that questioned the wisdom of holding the Games in the midst of a pandemic.