Japanese director Naomi Kawase in Tokyo on July 1.

When she learned of the postponement of the Summer Games from 2020 to 2021 and of the pharaonic filming she was preparing, that of the official film of the sporting event, the filmmaker Naomi Kawase decided to take her trouble patiently. However, it is not her habit to lift the foot, she who has shot nine films in the past ten years.

But what to do, if not wait for July 23, when the Olympic Games kick off, which will end on August 8? “I took care of my vegetable garden, my flowers, explains the 52-year-old director from Tokyo in a video interview. I wrote a lot of letters, I watched movies. And then I was able to enjoy everyday things with my son, running with him in the park next to our house. “

The confinement was also fueled by questions about this perilous project. But the context is new: “The pandemic is already part of the film, since it affects the competition, the athletes, the audience. I keep asking myself the question of the meaning of such a shoot, of the meaning of the images in this situation ”, explains Naomi Kawase.

Director of sentimental dramas

The Covid-19 imposes a great plasticity on him, for a filming which will take place in a city placed under a state of emergency and in stadiums without an audience. Upstream, she shot interviews with athletes during confinement, recording their confidences in video. His documentary will be subject to the IOC’s scrutiny in early 2022 and could then be broadcast on an online platform.

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In a temple near her home in Nara, Naomi Kawase also filmed an ancestral ritual: Otaimatsu, a nocturnal ceremony that dates back to VIIIe century, when a third of the inhabitants of this city were wiped out by a smallpox epidemic. Thus, it is through the spiritual that the director intends to nourish this Olympic project, unprecedented in her filmography. She who began with a graceful and contemplative documentary film, dedicated to the origins and family ties (In his arms, 1992), then accustomed the public to sentimental dramas about mourning and inheritance (Shara, 2003, Mogari Forest, 2007, Tokyo Delights, 2015).

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Filming the Olympic Games is a very different project, with an inordinate cast and inexhaustible material. The risk would be to get lost: “The team has 100 people, which is not much considering the 300 disciplines. I knew in advance that it was impossible to film everything, and I decided on a particular treatment ”, specifies the director. The other pitfall would consist in delivering a bland work such as the Games have often known. The IOC has produced some forty documentaries since the Stockholm Games (1912), giving birth to a genre in itself, which has evolved from television capture to a smooth and polished cinema.

Medals in the background

Few of the famous names have lent themselves to the exercise, with the exception of Miloš Forman, Claude Lelouch and a few others in Munich (1976). During the Tokyo Games in 1964, the committee chose Akira Kurosawa, but the filmmaker wanted to keep the final cut and to stage the opening ceremony himself… He was replaced by Kon Ichikawa, who delivered, with Tokyo Olympics, one of the most beautiful documentaries devoted to the Games.

Naomi Kawase discovered it during confinement, as well as a notorious precedent, devoted to the Berlin Olympics, in 1936, the very questionable The gods of the stadium, by Leni Riefenstahl. ” I chose it because it is one of the few to have been made by a woman, and, although it is questionable, I find it successful. Riefenstahl was able to film the bodies up close, which is no longer possible today. I have fewer possibilities than television cameras ”, she regrets.

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Naomi Kawase remains discreet about the form of the film, but specifies that she is not only interested in medals. “I want to film the athletes in their suffering, which they have endured recently. The human, the human reality, this is what I want to capture. “

When asked for a childhood memory that could inspire her, she recounts her schoolgirl passion for end-of-year competitions – “At sports parties, I was always the first” – and for an animated series of the small screen, Game, set and match !. Then, his solitary practice of tennis against a neighborhood wall and basketball during his high school years. Naomi Kawase has also just been appointed president of the Japanese Women’s Basketball League and she will particularly follow the Japanese team.

The filmmaker has already accumulated hundreds of hours of rushes, for a film she wants stretched, “In two parts of three hours each”. Filming lengthwise to build the story during editing seems to be the appropriate method, as for his last feature, True Mothers, with a hundred hours of rushes edited over two hours and twenty minutes. The film, which was part of the Official Selection of the Cannes Film Festival in 2020, will be released in France on July 28. Right during the Games.

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