Marking the start of the 29th modern Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, five documentary films shot at the original 1964 Tokyo Games will be shown in Hong Kong starting this month. Beyond the Games: Documentaries from the Tokyo Olympics, 1964, will be screened from 25 July to 8 August at Broadway Cinematheque, a cinema specialising in independent films in Yau Ma Tei.
Ranging from 35 to 100 minutes, the films will be screened as a pair apart from Witches of the Orient, a 100-minute film by Julien Faraut released this year and the only modern picture, which is presented as a standalone screening. The French production focuses on the former players of the Japanese women's volleyball team used to be known as the "witches of the orient" in international media because of their seemingly supernatural powers on the court that led them to become gold medallists in 1964.
Screened together will be An Engineer's Assistant and On the Road, two films by Noriaki Tsuchimoto, who is regarded as one of the most important figures in the history of Japanese documentary filmmaking. The former exposes the high-pressure nature of the work train drivers had to contend with in a film originally commissioned by Japanese National Railways to promote the safety and efficiency of its services in the run up to the Games. In a similar turn, On the Road was born from Tsuchimoto being hired to make a film encouraging traffic safety around the Olympics. Instead, he produced a social critique that exposed the “traffic war” unfolding in Tokyo every day exacerbated by the city's extensive Olympics-driven regeneration.
The Olympic Road – Tokyo 1964 and Record of A Marathon Runner, directed by Sozo Okada and Kazuo Kuroki respectively, are films that show the effort that went into staging the 1964 Games by both athletes and workers behind the scenes. Okada's film, the shortest in the line-up, was originally intended to be an educational documentary funded by Matsushita Electric company to showcase how its products were helping the country gear up for the Olympics. Instead of channelling a shamelessly promotional flavour, the film is celebrated for the way it reveals how machines are vital to an event celebrating human strength, from the equipment that enhances training and performances to the devices that measure those all-important world records.
The second documentary, commissioned by Fuji Film and released in 1964, follows Kenji Kimihara, a marathon runner preparing for the Olympics. Although the athlete eventually finished eighth, Kuroki's lens depicts his determination and commitment to training and the notorious loneliness of long-distance running. Altogether, the programme arranged by Edko Films, shows a vintage Games from multiple original angles while offering a snapshot of Japanese society at a transformative point in time.