Sensation of the Century

Doesn’t achieve nearly the heights of Tokyo Olympiad, but still totally watchable. It’s fascinating to see how the same footage can be used in such different ways.

It’s not fair to this film, to compare it to the sublime Tokyo Olympiad, from which its footage is sourced. That film, the only one of these Olympic entries that was already in the collection prior to this set, is considered to be one of the greatest documentaries of all time. It’s a work of staggering artistic genius. It’s almost wholly unconcerned with the considerations of what an official Olympic film should be. It’s focus is not on utilitarian need, but on artistic merit.

It’s not fair to compare them, but it’s also almost impossible not to. This film was made because the Japanese Olympic Committee wasn’t happy with what Kon Ichikawa delivered to them. It’s not that they didn’t like Tokyo Olympiad, but they felt it strayed too far away from providing a report of exactly what happened. They also felt it didn’t do enough to credit the achievements of the Japanese athletes. Basically, it was a great film, but useless for their purposes. So, they hired a team to create this film, made up entirely of the footage Ichikawa had shot, but re-edited and with a new narration.

It’s not fair to compare, and also it misses what works about this film. This documentary suffers from basically all the things most of the others have. It’s nationalistic, it’s too obsessed with winning and records, it’s too much of a report. But it’s also surprisingly engaging, and it’s nice to find out more about what happened at the games. The Ichikawa film gives you the feeling of the Olympics, better than any other so far, but it doesn’t provide much of the how, where, and what. This film covers all of that, and it makes for a pretty great companion.