To be completely honest, I hadn’t initially planned on watching Tokyo Paralympics: Festival of Love and Glory; if I had, I could have saved six bucks by purchasing an all-access pass (which bundles this movie, Youth: The 50th National High School Baseball Tournament, and The Chrysanthemum and the Guillotine into one convenient package) on Japan Society’s website. Eventually, though, I decided that taking advantage of the full “Aim for the Best: Sports in Japanese Cinema” experience was worth the added expense; the films featured in this retrospective are, after all, extremely rare, and it is highly unlikely that I will ever have the opportunity to see them again.
While it’s nothing too spectacular, this long-forgotten documentary (which is, apparently, screening outside of its native country for the very first time) makes for a fascinating companion piece to the more lavishly-produced Tokyo Olympiad. Kimio Watanabe’s directorial style isn’t nearly as visually bold, ambitious, or innovative as Kon Ichikawa’s—he favors clean, static, symmetrical compositions and sentimental melodrama (some of which, I suspect, is at least partially staged and/or fictionalized)—but he still manages to have a bit of fun with his craft. He’s especially fond of match cuts; in one early sequence, for example, a series of shots of looping, interweaving highway overpasses dissolves into an image of the iconic Olympic rings.
This formal playfulness perfectly complements the uplifting, optimistic tone of the subject matter. When you consider its broader historical context, however, Tokyo Paralympics actually transcends its humble roots as a formulaic celebration of athleticism; because many of the competitors in 1964 were (according to the narrator) paralyzed veterans, this “inspirational sports doc” becomes a thoroughly compelling—and, ultimately, hopeful—meditation on the lingering scars of World War II.