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The Tokyo Olympics’ Somber Opening Ceremony Was Saved—Barely—by the Athletes

The Tokyo Olympics’ Somber Opening Ceremony Was Saved—Barely—by the Athletes


The standard 21st-century Olympics opening ceremony is rather a lot. 9 years in the past in London, Daniel Craig appeared to parachute into the stadium with Queen Elizabeth II because the James Bond theme blared. The 2008 Beijing ceremony enlisted 15,000 performers. Sydney 2000 had large glowing jellyfish. It’s not arduous to think about Japan—land of Studio Ghibli and avant-garde road fashion, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu and Nintendo, Yayoi Kusama and Takashi Murakami—one-upping its predecessors with an much more elaborate, colourful pop spectacle. But the Tokyo Summer season Olympic Video games (which we’re nonetheless, confusingly, referring to with the yr 2020) opened on a much more somber, muted word.
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A distinct, older aesthetic that we affiliate with Japan predominated at Friday’s ceremony: minimalism. And with good motive. The crowds of athletes, performers and viewers members in attendance had been all drastically diminished as a result of COVID-19, as Tokyo faces a terrifying surge and the Delta variant spreads kudzu-like across the globe. In accordance with TIME reporters on website, “You could possibly have spent a greater a part of the night time staring on the colours of the empty seats: patterns of white, purple, forest inexperienced.” Exterior the stadium, protesters who feared the video games would exacerbate their metropolis’s public well being disaster pleaded for his or her cancellation. A collection of last-minute resignations from disgraced members of the ceremony’s artistic group should have posed their share of extra challenges. Partially for these causes, but in addition simply because that is such a tough and poignant second to be a citizen of the world, solely the Parade of Nations actually justified waking up early to look at.

Getty Photos—2021 Getty PhotosFlag bearers Nadia Eke and Sulemanu Tetteh of Crew Ghana in the course of the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Video games

The extra formal parts of the ceremony weren’t totally with out highlights. Although previous host international locations have competed to make their representations of the 5 Olympic rings larger, brighter and extra technically superior than the remainder, I discovered it shifting to look at dancers representing Japanese craftspeople assemble reasonably sized circles out of humble wooden. There have been some cool drones. An overlong however endearingly quirky dance sequence celebrating every sport’s pictogram, a visible language Tokyo contributed to the Olympics throughout its first internet hosting stint in 1964, supplied some much-needed comedian reduction. And who may deny the resonance of the Japanese and Haitian tennis star Naomi Osaka lighting the cauldron in her residence nation?

All of it felt acceptable if not fairly gratifying—nicely, aside from a handful of true record-scratch moments. A dance that used a protracted, purple strip of cloth to invoke the lifeblood of the human physique, and which NBC co-host Savannah Guthrie interpreted to imply that “the beating coronary heart of the Olympics are its athletes,” gave me flashbacks to Luca Guadagnino’s creepy Suspiria remake. A montage of worldwide celebrities, together with John Legend and Keith City, singing a model of “Think about” organized by Hans Zimmer, may’ve been a pleasant concept if a montage of worldwide celebrities singing “Think about” launched within the early days of lockdown hadn’t provoked such a memorable backlash. (Additionally: wouldn’t one instant impact of imagining “no international locations” be an finish to the Olympics?) As an alternative of constructing to any type of crescendo, the scripted and choreographed parts of the ceremony meandered till 4 hours had been stuffed.

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Getty PhotosFlag bearers Malia Paseka and Pita Taufatofua of Crew Tonga lead their group in the course of the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Video games at Olympic Stadium on July 23, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.

Masked and distanced although it was, the Parade of Nations lifted the vitality stage considerably. Argentina’s delegation pogoed into the stadium. Crew Ghana sang. (Apparently they weren’t supposed to do this. Oh nicely. I’m glad they did.) The flag bearers for the Dominican Republic danced collectively like they had been halfway via an evening in town. Mic’d up along with being masked up, American flag carriers Sue Chicken and Eddy Alvarez supplied Guthrie and co-host Mike Tirico reflections on having to go away their households behind midway world wide; viewers received a glimpse of Alvarez’s proud dad and mom watching in Florida. Watching 205 pandemic-stricken international locations stride into the sector—Tonga’s iconic, oiled-up taekwondo grasp and skier Pita Taufatofua amongst them, thank heavens—underscored that we as a human race are nonetheless right here and nonetheless succesful, in some restricted method, of coming collectively. In that sense, though the custom dates again many years, this yr’s Parade of Nations jogged my memory a little bit of the varied and enthusiastic roll name at 2020’s digital DNC.

This isn’t to say that our pleasure for the athletes ought to drown out the numerous main, reliable considerations which have been raised about 2021’s 2020 Olympics. From Tokyo’s COVID nightmare and troubling reviews in regards to the IOC Refugee Olympic Crew to Sha’Carri Richardson’s mindless marijuana suspension and different Olympians dealing with sexist or racist rules relating to uniforms, swim caps and breastfeeding, we should always go into this yr’s video games harboring no illusions about an establishment sorely in want of an inner reckoning. But to the extent that we get any enjoyment or inspiration out of the subsequent two weeks in Tokyo, it is going to be a credit score to not the bureaucrats or the company sponsors or the IOC, however to the athletes.

Learn extra in regards to the Tokyo Olympics:

  • Naomi Osaka: ‘It’s O.Ok. to Not Be O.Ok.’
  • Motherhood May Have Price Olympian Allyson Felix. She Wouldn’t Let It
  • ‘Unapologetic and Unafraid.’ Sue Chicken Stares Down Olympic Glory in Tokyo and Fairness Off the Court docket
  • Meet 6 Heroes Who Helped Battle COVID-19 Earlier than Competing within the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics
  • 48 Athletes to Watch on the Tokyo Olympics
  • The Olympic Refugee Crew Was Created to Provide Hope. Some Athletes Are Operating Away From It