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Life Documentary Looks at Tokyo Olympics, Then and Now

On July 23, 2021, the 2020 Summer Olympic Games will open in Tokyo, delayed a year and absent fans due to the pandemic, but still promising the excitement and inspiration of the world’s largest international sporting event.

But Senior Distinguished Director-in-Residence Regge Life is looking back at another Olympics.

In anticipation of the 2020 games, Life created a short documentary about the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, as seen through the eyes of three non-Japanese residents who were there before and after the nation first hosted the world.

“In 2018, I got the idea that it would be nice to look at the Olympics through the eyes of some people who had witnessed the 1964 Olympics in Japan and saw the incredible change it created for the people and the country as a way of comparing it to what people had wished for and hoped for at the time, because it was a decade after the war ended,” Life said.

The film explores “kind of Japan’s reemergence from the ashes of World War II and the optimism and drive of how people felt at that time, re-energized and becoming part of the world community again.”

Memories of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and Best Wishes for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is comprised of interviews with three foreign nationals and long-time residents of Japan – American Julie Fukuda, Hans Brinckmann from the Netherlands, and Wigneswaran “Wicky-san” Ampalavanar, a Sri Lankan TV presenter – along with archival footage and photos. It’s packaged such that it could be used as a TV segment during the games.  

regge life head shot
Senior Distinguished Director-in-Residence Regge Life.

Life said he chose to examine the Olympics through the eyes of foreigners because the way they see the country is quite different from how a Japanese resident might see it.

“These are people who made Japan their home, this is where they live and spent decades of their lives. They were keenly aware of what the country was at one time … and they saw the transformation that happened in 1964,” he said. “They have a unique window into what I would term the ‘soul of Japan,’ at the level of the people of Japan, and that makes them much better experts, in a way, able to unpack what the Olympics meant.”

Life, who spent six months in Japan in 1990 on a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, conducted the interviews in 2018, when he was in the country to screen his feature film, Cocktail Party. But the project was put on hold last year when the pandemic brought the world to a screeching halt.

“I didn’t want to start editing because for me, it was going to be strange to finish it if the Olympics weren’t going to happen,” Life said.

Later this week they will happen, but Life said it’s still too early to say what the 2020/2021 games will mean for Japan, Life said.

“I think once it’s all over, we’ll be able to unpack what’s the takeaway, what’s the legacy of having these Olympics a year later, in the midst of a pandemic.”

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