The Olympic filmmaker needed 2 films to cover the Tokyo turmoil

TOKYO — Naomi Kawase, the director of the official Tokyo Olympics film, admitted she was initially surprised by her assignment. It was at the end of 2018 when she got the commission from the International Olympic Committee.

The job has never been so easy.

Japanese public opinion was divided on holding the Games after the COVID-19 pandemic postponed them for a year, and the costs kept rising. Tokyo is considered the most expensive Olympic Games ever recorded.

There were scandals, crowned by the resignation of Yoshiro Mori, the head of the organizing committee, a few months before the opening of the Olympic Games. Disgruntled artists responsible for designing the opening and closing ceremonies also quit.

It was only after Kawase decided to focus on the so-called A-side athletes and much of the B-side hustle and bustle that she felt sure of how to manage all the material.

Each two-hour segment was released as a separate film titled “Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Official Film, Side A” and “Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Official Film, Side B”.

“I never hesitated,” she said in an interview with The Associated Press on Friday. “Suddenly there was this giant divide, the world fell into a troubled mood, and people were forced to go through their time with no easy answers.”

Side A and Side B, which were released in Japanese theaters recently, were like “twins,” she said. When seen together, they recount what she called “the human condition” exhibited by the Olympics.

She said talks are underway for global streaming, but nothing has been decided.

Kawase recently returned from the Cannes Film Festival, where the A-side premiered. Kawase won the Camera d’Or at the festival in 1997. She was a competition judge at Cannes. In 2007, she won the Grand Prix at the event.

Sifting through around 5,000 hours of footage was a challenge Kawase said she hadn’t taken on before — like solving a math puzzle.

A driving theme is a message about gender inequality.

Japan, with the world’s third-largest economy, consistently ranks low in gender gap studies, with women underrepresented in corporate boards and political leadership. Kawase said that she personally suffered as a director in Japan.

Side A shows – among other things – an Olympian competing after giving birth.

Side B shows horrifying images of the 2011 tsunami in northeast Japan. Some Olympic events, such as the torch relay, took place there to mark the reconstruction of the region.

The B-side also depicts some of the lowly players, like the man in charge of maintaining the grounds at the National Stadium in Tokyo or the chef overseeing the food served to the athletes at the Olympic Village.

Mori, whose face often appeared in close-ups, brings out the theme of sexism considerably.

Mori, a former prime minister, was forced to resign as chairman of the Olympic organizing committee following off-the-cuff remarks that women talk too much, leading to long meetings.

“If you get this close to faces, there are moments in people’s expressions, even in the tiniest movements of their eyes, where you see through what they’re really thinking,” Kawase said.

Mori was replaced by female politician and former Olympic bronze medalist Seiko Hashimoto. Other women were also added to the leadership of the organizing committee after Mori’s resignation.

You see them in the movies.

“It’s becoming very clear now that many aspects of Japanese society need to change,” Kawase said. “When society operates as a larger system, what is truly valuable gets overlooked and what happens becomes so superficial.”


Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter


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