We Denounce the Tokyo 2020 Film and Its Attempts to Legitimatize the Olympics
Our Response to Naomi Kawase’s Official Film of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 Side A
Already postponed for a year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games were held in summer 2021 despite massive public opposition. Our anger at this flagrant disregard for the will of the people remains unabated.
On June 3, 2022, Official Film of the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 Side A, the first part of Naomi Kawase’s documentary about the Tokyo Olympics, was released in Japan. On the day of its release, Hangorin no Kai, a long-term ally in our activism against the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, issued a statement (https://tmblr.co/ZVXF2tc5206wGy00) protesting the lies and fabrications in the official film as well as a statement (https://tmblr.co/ZVXF2tc522AMWa00) about the film’s use of footage of their protests. Like Hangorin no Kai, No 2020 Olympics Disaster OkotowaLink opposes the way the film has included our protests as part of its storytelling. Having seen Side A and the trailer for the second part, Side B, we will here make our position on the film crystal-clear.
Side A opens with Kaze Fujii’s quiet rendition of “Kimigayo,” the Japanese national anthem. Snow falls on cherry blossoms at the Imperial Palace. A bronze statement of Coubertin outside the Olympic stadium is topped by a crown of snow. The scene then cuts abruptly to one of our banners demanding the cancellation of the Olympics. What’s going on here? Side A is supposed to show the athletes’ stories, yet contains several scenes of protests by activists like us. The faces of attendees are blurred out, indicating the makers knew they were infringing on our privacy. The voices of our members calling for the Olympics to be abolished are audible during the film. Judging from the trailer, Side B also seems to contain similar scenes. Why did Kawase take footage and audio of our protests out of context to incorporate exploitatively like this in her official film about the Olympics that is meant to focus on the athletes?
We were never approached by Naomi Kawase, so can’t say for sure what her intentions are, but in a press conference on June 5, she said the following: “Over time, it will reach future generations. [. . .] This film is imprinted with the memory of the era. Even if not now, I want everyone, including those who opposed the Olympics, to someday watch this film that is about us, the Japanese who have lived this era to the full.” Given that the Olympic competitions were “robbed of the gaze” of spectators watching live in the venues, she says she “wanted to film what couldn’t be filmed.” The first part of the film features an uncritical portrayal of Yoshiro Mori, who resigned as head of the organizing committee over his sexist comments, and then unfolds as a dispassionately told series of “stories” about the individual athletes, both famous and not so, before ending with the song “The Sun and the Moon” and Coubertin’s statue and his words: “The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part.” It is obvious to us what Kawase is trying to portray from start to finish in her grandiose “Olympic story.”
The film makes no mention of the fact that the Japanese Olympic Committee set a medals target in an effort to boost national prestige. That Coubertin was a racist who openly advocated eugenics is completely absent. Such inconvenient details are whitewashed with token gestures toward refugees, Black Lives Matter, and Okinawa. The Japanese athlete who had to give up her Olympic dream to give birth. The Canadian athlete who successfully fought against the rules to bring along her child who is still breastfeeding. The athletes who tried their best, whether they won or lost. The film portrays the choices that each made as correct, presenting their “stories” as what the Olympics are truly about.
But in reality, the Japanese government strengthened border regulations for foreigners and tightened control over visas as a security measure ahead of the Olympics. The emphasis everywhere in the film is on “maternity,” the spirit of “harmony,” and the “Japanese,” yet the director seems oblivious to the way in which superficial labels like “gender equality” and “diversity” actually exclude and harm other minorities. Covering up these facts is surely not unintentional. The “documentary for humankind,” as Kawase calls it, consolidates the official narrative that the Tokyo Olympics have left a great legacy amidst the suffering of the pandemic. And we, opponents of the Olympic Games, were exploited in the film as tools for cementing the myth that the Olympics successfully overcame difficulties and divisions.
The pro-Olympic lobby is now attempting to take the immense trauma of the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which were forcibly held in spite of opposition from the majority of people and when Covid was running rampant, and twist it into a narrative of future “legacy.” Kawase’s film is fully aligned with and complicit in this.
Beginning with the lie told by Shinzo Abe, then prime minister of Japan, that the Fukushima nuclear disaster was “under control,” Tokyo 2020 has continued to cover up its myriad problems, from the allegations of vote-buying during the bid campaign to the ever-ballooning budget and the lives of people that were destroyed. Instead of soul-searching, though, the pro-Olympic lobby is now gearing up to make a bid for the 2030 Winter Olympics in Sapporo. The Tokyo 2020 film is colluding with this too.
The preview screening of the film in Tokyo was attended by Yoshiro Mori and other officials. It was then shown at the Cannes Film Festival. Kawase held a public event with Yoshihide Suga, the prime minister during the Olympics, and also gave a press conference. Vast amounts of money are being spent on promoting the film like this. And yet, the film has flopped at the box office in Japan, its commercial failure becoming a news story in its own right. Much like the actual Tokyo Olympics, few people are interested in this film about it.
At the end of last year, the public broadcaster NHK showed a documentary about Kawase and the making of her film. It featured an interview with a man and a caption claiming he “received money to take part in anti-Olympic protests,” even though he didn’t actually say that. When this was discovered, it became a scandal and is currently under investigation by Japan’s broadcasting ethics organization. As among those directly affected by this falsification of the truth, we sent letters of protest to both NHK and Kawase’s company, and have also filed a formal complaint to the broadcasting ethics organization about the violation of our rights. In the meantime, multiple allegations of assault and bullying have been made against Kawase.
As a director, Kawase has won acclaim for her work and last year became the first Japanese woman to be appointed a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. Her name is associated with several other international mega-events, such as advisor to Aichi Triennale 2022 and producer of Expo 2025 in Osaka. In this way, she has leveraged her role as director of the official Olympic film to bolster her career. Though people have demanded she explain herself and take responsibility for the NHK show and the allegations of bullying, she continues to maintain her position without providing any convincing account of her behavior. We are not alone in seeing what really lurks behind her film: the dark truth about the Olympics and the people that it protects.
In the end, Tokyo 2020’s official film does not show what actually happened. From the five thousand hours of footage that were apparently shot, Kawase cherry-picks only episodes that glorify the Olympics, and uses images of us that are edited in such a way as to denigrate the protest movement. But no matter how much they try to distort what we said and did, and twist it into part of the official narrative about the Olympics, they cannot silence our voices. Even though they try to exploit our protests for their story romanticizing the Olympics, our anger will overcome this film and reverberate louder around the whole world.
Naomi Kawase, shame on you! We oppose your attempts to legitimize and glorify the Tokyo 2020 Olympics through this official film.
June 15, 2022
No 2020 Olympics Disaster OkotowaLink