documentary Film scores

Soundtrack review: Tokyo Olympiad (Toshiro Mayuzumi – 1964)

KG20

“Tokyo Olympiad” is a 1965 documentary film directed by Kon Ichikawa which documents the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo. Like Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia, which documented the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Ichikawa’s film was considered a milestone in documentary filmmaking. However, Tokyo Olympiad keeps its focus more on the atmosphere of the games and the human side of the athletes instead of concentrating only on the winners and the results. I am surprised that I haven’t seen this one yet. Thanks to Kronos Records’ expanded release of the score by Toshiro Mayuzumi I am aware of it and I will look for it.

The score opens with the choral elegy “Aftermath of the bomb”. It’s a somber and poignant theme which gets to me. Somehow the fact that immediately after this piece comes the happy jazzy “Tokyo panorama” and then the psychotic and almost creepy “Before the games” first my image of Japan from those times, a bit chaotic and varied but always intense. I am waiting for the parts that make me think of sports heroes and motivation to start.

Listening to the Pink Panther like “Freedom of motion” makes me reconsider my thoughts and expectations of this score. I guess I came into this with a mindset which was a little too American; I was expecting epic, motivational without thinking that the music for such a documentary can be done more subtly. This music shows the sports as seen through the eyes of an artist: “Fencing” is dancing, “Sailing” is reflecting, “Boxing” is aggression, almost as intense as a horror movie cue; “Wrestling” sounds like a different kind of dance complete with watching your partner.

“Swimming lessons” is relaxing and fragile; the cue reminds me of ballet music. This score and the way the different cues are written bring a fairy tale like aura around the sports. I was expecting inspirational and instead I get dreamy and whimsical and it’s great. I love seeing or rather hearing sports through this lens. Each separate sport gets its own theme and sound: some of them are tense, others are joyful but all of them are interesting and a great listen.

I think if I had heard this score without knowing the composer I would have guessed Japanese. There’s something in the sound that makes me think of Yukio Mishima novels. Both the “Sad defeat” and the “Victory march” sound as if they are perceived as only slightly different from each other. There is such a thin line in sports between those two and the music of “Tokyo Olympiad” respects and reflects that. This was a very rewarding listen and I can’t wait to see the documentary.

The extra cues from this release, the ones that weren’t on the original vinyl release from 50 years ago, play on emotions rather than separate sports and are a welcomed addition.

Cue rating: 87 / 100

Total minutes of excellence: 30 / 68

Album excellence: 44%

Highlights:

Aftermath Of The Bomb

Freedom Of Motion

Fencing

Swimming Lessons

Athletic Games

Marathon

Victory March

Olympic Finale

Le Olimpiadi Di Tokyo (Marathon-Alt)

Le Olimpiadi Di Tokyo (Dramatic)

Le Olimpiadi Di Tokyo (Freedom Of Motion-Alt)

 

About the author

Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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