1964 Tokyo Paralympics. Parade of Nations.

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The 1964 Paralympics were the second to be held in the same city as the Olympic Games. There were 378 athletes from 21 nations competing in 144 medal events in nine sports. All of the athletes had been disabled by spinal injuries, for which reason they all competed in wheelchairs.

There are said to have been six films made about the 1964 Paralympics, but only two are known to have survived and only one, Tokyo Paralympics: Festival of Love and Glory, has been available for general viewing. Found in the archives of the Kadokawa Corporation, it was brushed up and, in anticipation of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, shown in Japan and through foreign sources.

The Games, which took place for five days in November, were known as both The Tokyo Games for the Physically Handicapped and the Paralympic Games.

Directed by well-known cinematographer Kimio Watanabe, the film shows the Opening Ceremony, including the Parade of Nations, and the Closing Ceremony, including a speech by Ludwig Guttmann, director of the National Spinal Injuries Centre at Stoke Mandeville Hospital, who is credited with initiating the Paralympic Movement. There is also limited coverage of some of the competitions: men’s basketball and weightlifting, and women’s and men’s fencing, swimming, table tennis, archery and athletics (both track and field). There are even events that one does not normally see, such as javelin throw for accuracy and, to go along with the shot put and discus throw, the throwing of a club.

However, most of Tokyo Paralympics: Festival of Love and Glory is devoted to presenting the stories of six Japanese athletes. Early in the film, the narrator, actor Jukichi Uno, says, “War injuries, traffic accidents or work-related injuries and illnesses, they tend to happen when we least expect them…. Spinal injuries can cause paralysis of the lower extremities and even damage to the internal organs. But as the upper body and the brain functions remain intact, people turn to sports as a way to restore the balance.” The film then gives several examples.

Javelin thrower Fumiyo Ogasawara’s disability was triggered by a fever after her second daughter was born. She considered suicide but thought of her children in her parents’ care. She says she wants to support herself as a seamstress and be there when her daughters need her. Eventually we follow her two little girls, Koko and Satomi, as they travel to Tokyo and visit her. They attend the Opening Ceremony. The little one sits on her mother’s lap on the wheelchair, and they push her wheelchair on the grass. Later, they watch Ogasawara fall while mounting the podium after earning a bronze medal.

The man who recites the Athletes’ Oath, fencer Shigeo Aono, was shot in the back on the battlefront in 1943 and incurred a spinal cord injury. He became frustrated with his condition, but his wife “confronted me, saying that I needed to pull myself together. She said that she trusted me the most and needed me to be there for her…. We had a heart-to-heart like that. So I thought I might as well take the plunge. I would try and move what I had left and get my health back. And they said sports was the best way to achieve that. I used to love sports. So once I started, I was pretty good at it, and it was fun. Then, as luck would have it, the Paralympics came along.”

Archer T. Matsumoto tells his story: “It was when I was a prisoner of war, the Americans told us to cut down the trees of the palm forest. The trees were tall with little of branches on top, and they were grouped together. I was trying to climb up between them…and the next thing I knew I was lying in an American field hospital. At first I felt I’d lost all hope for tomorrow…. I had to do something. I wanted to make use of my upper body…. I thought archery would be the best sport for me.”

Although Tokyo Paralympics: Festival of Love and Glory is about sport, it is also a call to action for the Japanese government to do more to help disabled people. The Japanese athletes who competed at the 1964 Paralympics came from sanatoriums, and many needed grassroots fundraising to pay their way to Tokyo.

In voiceover, a man comments that in the U.K. disabled people work and pay taxes, while in Japan the disabled are supported by others. Discus and javelin thrower Sugiura proposes that the government could find work for the disabled. “It would be good for us, and we’d be working instead of just living off pensions.” A woman, also in voiceover, sums up the Japanese athletes’ exposure to disabled athletes from other nations: “The international athletes are always so cheerful,” she says, “it’s as if they’ve been drinking.”