Monday, January 31, 2011

Movie Review: Sapporo Winter Olympics

Sapporo Winter Olympics (札幌オリンピック) (1972)
by Masahiro Shinoda

It's in the previous post, but I'll embed it here again for those who find this individual post through searching.

From the only review at, by a C. Weinstein of Los Angeles:

If this DVD represents the documentary "Sapporo Winter Olympics" by Masahiroo Shinoda, it is probably one of the best that came out of Japan in the 1970's. Extremely difficult to find on video, this film is as much about a meditation on discipline and on pure atmosphere as it is a coverage of the 1972 winter games. Each section has its own rhythm and flows effortlessly into subsequent scenes. Narration is almost completely absent for most of the film, the director preferring you to experience the feeling of cold weather that practically chills you from the screen and the determination on the part of many entrants gunning for a chance to make their mark.

If you like pure atmosphere in a film or are just looking for a good documentary about the 1972 Sapporo Olympics I highly recommend finding a copy of this.

The clip is all of three minutes and thirty-five seconds, but it is amazing how it captures all the points listed in Mr. Weinstein's review. It is absolutely atmospheric and a meditation. When I first watched it yesterday, I thought to myself at first that it was some kind of extremely stylistic film portraying fictional characters, starting with the opening shot showing the lone building against a bleak, empty sky and then moving on to the bird's-eye view of the skater alone on the ice and going from there. The katakana characters only added to the feeling of foreignness. Only during my reading of the commets at YouTube did I discover that the clip is from the documentary by the noted Japanese director.

The clip has that quality that so often is found in photos and films of that period that is hard to describe. It's detailed and focused, yet subdued. without the rich colors one today associates with digital film.

The action is simple, three different ladies skating around and judges judging the figures left behind. I think only a Japanese director, with his attention to nuance and unspoken expression, could capture with such detail the emotions evident. The first skater is calm, collected, disciplined and confident. The second skater is uncertain and hesitant. Shinoda captures this by showing both her facial expression and her posture before starting as she stands there before beginning her figure. The crowd looks nervous. She begins tentatively and looks wobbly. This is followed by close-ups of two of the judges, judging, watching, commenting as they examine everything.

Like I said, it's barely over three and a half minutes, but it is captivating. It reminded me immediately of Tarkovsky's Solaris, especially the prewiew shot of the second skater, standing there with her short blond hair. It looks surreal.

I need to find this documentary.

1 comment:

Unknown said...


I was looking up this very doc again and was surprised to see that you had referenced my Amazon review of the film! I'm flattered and happy to find another enthusiast of the film.

I can tell you this much about it: I saw this a few years ago while on the east coast on one of the then-new HD channels (HDNET??) that Bright House Cable was showing at the time.

The entire film by Shinoda was showing that day. Unfortunately we had no DVR, D-VHS or firewire-enabled recorder for me to tape the program because it was very apparent that what I was watching wasn't going to be available on home video. Also, on that same trip I caught Barry Lyndon IN high definition on that or a similar HD channel-- furthering the argument as to what is holding up Warner Bros from releasing that gem on blu-ray.

I don't remember everything about the film but it focused on every major event and while there was narration in some places it was very much like the section available on youtube throughout.

I've since identified the DVD of the film but often they sell for $100 or more before shipping. I have to imagine that there must be a cheaper source than Amazon.

You've got an interesting blog. I wish I'd found this post a year ago but I suppose there is a time for everything.


C. Weinstein