The director of Sapporo Winter Olympics, Masahiro Shinoda, was already known for such films as Pale Flower and Double Suicide. Three months after the Sapporo Games, his film Silence was shown in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. Sapporo Winter Olympics earned a Golden Globe nomination in the Best Documentary category. Accompanied by the musical theme of “Born Free,” it is another example of a film that successfully combines artistic accomplishment with understandable coverage of the competitions in various sports.
That said, as the athletes of the world arrive, they are confronted by Japanese reporters who ask them a series of stupid questions, such as “What do you think of Sapporo?” [they’ve just landed] and “What gifts will you bring back to your parents?” [they’ve just landed].
On the other hand, the film plunges right into the major controversy of the 1972 Winter Games. IOC President Avery Brundage arrives and holds a press conference at which he announces the banning of Austrian Alpine skiing hero Karl Schranz, accusing him of being a professional. Although it is not mentioned in Sapporo Winter Olympics, Brundage was angry at Schranz for being outspoken. His decision to only punish Schranz was hypocritical considering that the winner of the downhill at the Sapporo Games, Bernhard Russi of Switzerland, had allowed his name and photograph to be used as part of a major pre-Olympic publicity campaign by a Swiss insurance company.
Brundage had been president of the International Olympic Committee since 1952 and had announced that he would retire after the end of the 1972 Summer Olympics. As the IOC president, Brundage, using the language of the host country, had spoken at the Opening and Closing Ceremonies of every Games since 1956. Unless he was speaking English, his accent was so bad that one wonders if the staff who worked for him were afraid to offer to help him.
Sapporo is a large city on Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido. As the Torch Relay makes its way to the Opening Ceremony, we are shown beautiful scenes of Hokkaido, with narration that implies that the island is considered remote and exotic even to most Japanese. The Parade of Nations includes a couple of national stereotypes. Italians are described as “cheerful and jolly.” When the French team enters, we are told that “The world is watching the Sapporo Olympics fashion, and the French team is a feast for the eyes.”
The first event presented in the film is the men’s downhill, and it is done so in detail. The narrator also points out that as soon as a skier crosses the finish line, he must remove his skis and hand them to an official so that commercial logos cannot be shown.
Before the !972 Games, no Japanese athlete had ever earned a gold medal at a Winter Olympics. So there was great pressure, three days after the Opening Ceremony, on the strong team of Japanese ski jumpers in the 70-meter event. As a huge crowd watches, three Japanese, Yukio Kasaya, Akitsugu Konno and Seiji Aochi, sweep the medals. It is such a pleasing development that Ingolf Mork of Norway, who placed fourth, lifts Kasaya onto his shoulders.
Throughout the film, there are intercut audio interviews with various Japanese male athletes, including Kasaya, but most notably with speed skater Keiichi Suzuki, who took the Athletes’ Oath at the Opening Ceremony and was competing in his third Olympics. He announces his retirement—at age 29—after placing 19th.
The man who sets the gates for the slalom is compared to a musical composer who creates the movements that the skiers will follow.
Great attention and praise is given to Dutch speed skater Ard Schenk, who won three gold medals. However, Galina Kulakova of the Soviet Union, who won all three women’s cross-country skiing events, is not covered at all.
There is one particularly noteworthy artistic segment. American figure skater Janet Lynn was weak at compulsory figures, but her free skate routine was so captivating that figure skating officials decreased the scoring value of compulsory figures and then eliminated them entirely beginning with the 1990-1991 season. In Sapporo Winter Olympics, director Shinoda shows us Lynn’s entire free skate performance, during much of which he superimposes Hokkaido swans flying through the air and gliding across the water. But there is a third element to this montage, perhaps unintended. The figure skating events are held in the same rink as the ice hockey tournament, and the hockey markings, such as faceoff circles, goal creases and blue lines, were not removed for the figure skating contests. Consequently, we see the gracefulness of Janet Lynn and the lake birds on a background where, on different days, hockey players are pummeling each other.