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Tokyo 2020 official film to reflect public opposition to Games

The official film of the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will reflect public opposition to holding the event during a pandemic and challenge the idea that the coronavirus can be “defeated” like an enemy, according to its director.

Naomi Kawase told the Financial Times in an interview ahead of the opening ceremony on Friday she had to radically rethink her approach to documenting the Games because of the health crisis.

“About half a year ago, I thought it was a very easy-to-understand theme that the Olympics were proof that the world had overcome the coronavirus,” said Kawase. 

“However, since then, my way of thinking has changed a little to a feeling that it cannot be overcome,” said the maker of critically acclaimed films such as Still The Water and The Mourning Forest, which deal with grief, romance and family.

Kawase’s comments came as Tokyo wrestles with the practical challenges of hosting a multibillion-dollar global showcase while the city is under a state of emergency. 

Organisers are also facing a public relations battle, with some big sponsors appearing to question the benefits of being associated with the Games. Toyota and Panasonic have decided against running television advertising campaigns in Japan that directly reference the Games.

Kawase said the high-profile film would no longer follow a simple, optimistic narrative and would instead incorporate a wide spectrum of views on the meaning of holding the Games during the pandemic. Measures in place to prevent the spread of the virus include banning spectators from almost all events, creating an atmosphere that no previous Olympics film-maker has had to confront.

“You can’t win, you can’t defeat corona; you can have corona, you can have infections,” she said. “We have to think about how to face this and get on with life, not to suppress it from the perspective of human beings trying to beat something. I think it is a very egoistic attitude to think that you can eradicate something that is not going to go away.”

Kawase won the Camera d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997 for Suzaku, her debut feature, and has been celebrated for its ruthless but low-key dissection of modern Japanese society. She was selected in 2018 by the International Olympic Committee to make the film, but had to argue to be allowed to pursue her “unique” approach, saying she had assumed last year that all Japanese would pull together and work hard to host the Games.

“I was too optimistic,” Kawase said, adding that more people were questioning why the Olympics were going ahead when lives were potentially in danger. “So in the end, we have to go ahead in the current situation where the majority in Japan is against the Olympics. It is a division we did not really expect and so capturing that division for the film will, I think, create a very rare historical record.”

Kawase’s challenge as a documentarist of the Olympics follows the tradition of Kon Ichikawa, the Japanese director chosen to capture the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. His portrayal of the event enraged both Olympic officials and the Japanese government, which demanded edits he was not prepared to make.

Although public opposition to the games has shifted as the opening ceremony approached and a larger percentage of the population has been fully vaccinated, the most recent polls showed a majority of the public remained opposed to holding the Games.

A group of academics and other prominent figures made a last-ditch bid this week to convince the Tokyo government to cancel the event. Their petition claimed that it was “insane” to host the Games under current circumstances. 

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