Two long-forgotten films offering a rare glimpse into the staging of the 1964 Tokyo Paralympics and the conditions that were faced by disabled people in Japan at the time are being aired with about a year to go before the 2020 Games.
Gathering dust for about five decades, the films capture the atmosphere of postwar society in 1964, and the involvement of then-Crown Prince Akihito and Crown Princess Michiko in the fledgling sports movement.
The 1964 Paralympics were officially called the “International Games for the Physically Handicapped,” but the Tokyo event marked the first time the term “paralympics” came into wide, albeit then unofficial, use. It is now considered by the International Paralympic Committee to be the second Paralympics after the 1960 Rome Games, which were also called the Paraplegic Olympics.
A few of the Japanese athletes were former servicemen, and members of the Imperial family visited and watched the competitions, according to Journal of the Paralympic Research Group by the Nippon Foundation Paralympic Support Center. Many of the foreign athletes were also ex-servicemen.
One of the films, the title of which can be translated as “Tokyo Paralympics, Festival of Love and Glory” (“Tokyo Paralympic Ai to Eiko no Saiten”), had been “buried in the company’s massive archives,” Satoru Nokuo, associate general manager at distributor Kadokawa Corp., said at a screening at Sophia University in July.
The other film, “Record of the 1964 Tokyo Paralympic Games” (“1964-nen Tokyo Paralympic Taikai Kiroku Eiga”), was found in a warehouse of the Japanese Para-Sports Association, according to Tetsuya Takeuchi, a senior commentator at NHK who took part in the screenings.
Through interviews and other means, the 63-minute and 45-minute films depict how people with disabilities in Japan regained their sense of worth by playing sports and interacting with foreign athletes who had endured similar struggles.
The former was directed by cinematographer Kimio Watanabe and the latter by the NHK Public Welfare Organization.
The films also cast light on the differences between Japanese athletes, many of whom lived in institutions at the time, and their foreign counterparts, who in many cases were active in their communities.
For NHK’s Takeuchi, who uses a wheelchair, the films are a reminder about how much still needs to be done to improve the lives of disabled people in Japan. While transport access and other issues have improved, the situation “has not really changed in any significant way. People with disabilities still face challenges in finding marriage partners and jobs,” he said.
Compared with today, the events of 1964 were seen, especially in Japan, as a way to provide physical rehabilitation rather than competition.
“I’ve noticed the word rehabilitation was mentioned many times (in the films),” archer Tomohiro Ueyama said at the screening for the NHK film. Ueyama competed in the 2016 Rio Games and is expected to compete in 2020. “But it’s different now, and I am hoping people will enjoy the Paralympic Games as a sports event in Tokyo rather than rehabilitation.”
According to an official 1964 Paralympics report, the two films are among six independently produced records of the event; the other four are missing. No official filming of the Paralympics was conducted due to a lack of funding, the report said.
“Thanks to the two surviving films, we are able to see what really happened in 1964,” said Fumio Morooka, a professor emeritus at Sophia University who moderated the talks at the screenings. He said it was important to keep a visual record of such events.
“As no official announcement has been made yet on the film production to record the upcoming Tokyo Paralympics … I truly hope the public and private sectors will cooperate to produce a visual record that can pass on the legacy of the games to future generations,” Morooka said.
Andrew Parsons, the president of the International Paralympic Committee, said in a statement that he was pleased the original 1964 Tokyo Paralympic Games film had been found and stressed their “lasting legacy” in both Japan and around the world.
“Since 1964 we have seen the Paralympic movement grow and grow, taking leaps and bounds not just for the Paralympians, but also for society as a whole,” he said.