"The Games of the XXXII Olympiad formally began by evoking a sense of isolation, specifically the isolation felt by athletes who have been training for their big moment during the extended COVID crisis that put these Games on hold for a full year and that many argue should have put them on hold for even longer," Jen Chaney says of the Tokyo Games' Opening Ceremony that aired in the U.S. for the first time live this morning. Chaney adds: "The atmosphere around an event that is normally met with excitement and a steady stream of feel-good stories has dampened a bit, to the point where it feels almost insensitive to say that you’re psyched to watch endless hours of swimming and diving. Mike Tirico, who co-hosted NBC’s live coverage of the opening ceremony with Today’s Savannah Guthrie, promised this Tokyo affair would be 'more modest, more spare' than the lavish kickoffs of Summer Games past, which was an accurate, and polite, way to describe a production dominated by the sight of seats deliberately left unoccupied because of the pandemic surge in Japan. In practice, these are the Sadlympics, the Ill-lympics, the 2020 (or is it 2021?) Olympic 'Because We Really Gotta Do This' Games, and the opening ceremony reflected that in ways that could be eerie and depressing but also oddly representative of the perseverance of the human spirit — or at least the perseverance of the human spirit when the IOC refuses to cancel the Olympics because, let’s face it, there’s too much money at stake. If we’ve learned anything about the Olympics in recent weeks, it’s that they will abide by the status quo even when abiding by the status quo makes no sense. Hence everyone soldiering on with the opening ceremony and despite everything — Italics! Exclamation point! —sometimes even conjuring magic in the process. Japanese pop singer MISIA stood up and sang the Japanese national anthem while wearing an extravagant dress that looked like a massive, beautiful cherry blossom then was cheered at the end of her performance by what sounded like piped-in applause. The Japanese flag was raised while officials looked on soberly, all of their faces shrouded in masks. Tap dancers did an elaborate routine that involved building tables with lumber grown from seeds first planted by athletes who competed the last time Tokyo hosted the Olympics, back in 1964. Actors in white-and-blue body suits raced around to act out the pictograms that represent every single event in the Olympics. It was impressive and lovely, and yet there was heartbreak at the center of it all, knowing how much work had gone into a presentation that unfolded in front of empty seats and a global television audience that may be more indifferent to the Olympics than it ever has been. Only time and ratings will tell."
Opening Ceremony felt chillingly more Death Star than Panhellenic: "The nearly four-hour long NBC broadcast event from a virtually locked down Tokyo was a made for TV event in almost all the worst ways," says Dominic Patten. "Or rather, when your penultimate kicker is a Tonight Show-like skit literally turning on all the lights in the 13 million populated metropolis, you might want to reconsider your global audience’s expectations. Sixteen hours ahead of LA and held in the vast, new-ish, and virtually empty National Stadium, the 'modest, more spare' and 'gentle' opening ceremony, as co-host Savannah Guthrie cautioned, began with a confusing and downbeat video presentation that wobbled between acknowledging the realities of the ongoing global health crisis and subsequent athletes in isolation."
With few spectators on hand, this ceremony and these Games are a made-for-TV event even more than they usually are: "And these images communicated the tension for both host and broadcaster," says James Poniewozik. "Is this year’s Olympic spirit one of resilience or of hubris? Is NBC covering — and participating in — a celebration or a catastrophe? There were indications of both at once. The international athletes, who ordinarily join the Parade of Nations to massive cheers, entered a quiet stadium, smiling with their eyes while sporting face masks in festive national colors. It was not the boisterous return-to-life party we might have hoped for a year ago, nor was it the retreat we might have expected. It was a halfway, transitional ceremony for a halfway, transitional, precarious moment. And for NBC, covering the ceremony live for U.S. morning TV, it meant an awkward balancing act for an event that it is used to covering as an expensive party."
Opening Ceremony was depressing as hell: "I’m not sure how to talk about the Olympics Opening Ceremony. Over the years, I have reviewed it as a show," says Kevin Fallon. "They’re always a bit silly. But they’re beautiful, and they send a message. An entire nation’s cultural history portrayed via modern dance. It’s insane. It’s a marvel, especially as the host country proudly displays its new technological advancements. I laugh and cry in equal measure. There are often stats about how many locals were recruited to pull off the antics. The ceremony is not just a triumph of artistry, but of community. You hear about local drummers, dancers, and people willing to wield flags as if their life depended on it, all in the name of presenting national pride to an international audience. In a normal year, one could only imagine what Tokyo would have produced on that scale. Friday’s Opening Ceremony took place in a largely empty stadium, as the country that was supposed to be hosting stayed at home during a pandemic. Japan is known for its artistry and meticulousness, from culture to capitalism. If you’ve been there, you know its tourism and standard of service. It is frankly sad to see a representation of it so coy and removed. Friday’s Opening Ceremony took place in a largely empty stadium, as the country that was supposed to be hosting stayed at home during a pandemic. Japan is known for its artistry and meticulousness, from culture to capitalism. If you’ve been there, you know its tourism and standard of service. It is frankly sad to see a representation of it so coy and removed."
Add “somber” to the list of adjectives that could be applied to this opening ceremony that have never been applied to an Olympics opening before: "First responders played a major role in several steps of the opening, and there were multiple references to the lives lost from COVID, including a standing moment of silence," says Daniel Fienberg. "Sensing the tone might be appropriate, organizers also gave the first recognition of its type to the Israeli athletes murdered at the 1972 Olympics in Munich. There were limitations to the sobriety, mind you. Reporters on Twitter tell me that there were anti-Olympics protests taking place outside the stadium. That definitely is not something you’d know from watching NBC. Maybe that unrest will be a part of later Olympics coverage, but for tonight or this morning, or whatever it is, the decision was made that it wasn’t befitting the mood."
Tokyo Games kicked off with a whimper: "It was an odd, sometimes awkward, and tonally dissonant four-hour presentation that tried to balance the weight of the ongoing pandemic with the joy and elation that usually accompanies the world's most prestigious athletic competition," says Kelly Lawler. "There were fireworks, but no big audience to cheer for them. There were remembrances for those lost to COVID-19, even as some masks slipped below noses and mouths. IOC President Thomas Bach spoke of 'hope' and 'resilience,' while Japanese protesters vociferously denounced the Games outside the stadium. The theme was one of triumph over a common foe, except that the world is nowhere near completely 'defeating' the deadly virus."
Opening Ceremony tried to have it both ways: "For an event like the Olympics that sure loves a narrative, this was an esoteric beginning to a fortnight that will surely be dominated by those questioning whether these Games should even be happening in the first place. In an inescapable way, this opening felt like a preemptive reassurance," says Steve Greene. "By nodding toward the realities of the pandemic, the Opening Ceremony’s first 20 minutes played out like a rite of international penance, something designed to cleanse any perceived impropriety and earn the 17 days to come in the minds of those curious enough to tune in. That also played out in the evening’s moment of silence, observed in the stadium and meant as a way to connect and unite a global audience. It was also described and intended as a way to honor the athletes killed nearly a half-century ago during the attack at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. In the wake of that gesture, the NBC broadcast added to the self-congratulatory tone of the evening, pointing out that an Opening Ceremony had never before acknowledged or made tribute to those deaths. Whether fair or not, it’s part of the impossible self-imposed corner that the Tokyo organizers have painted themselves into: Every deed for the rest of these Summer Games, however well-intentioned, can’t help coming off like a distraction or an obfuscation of the health risks inherent in the event itself."
Opening Ceremony used the music of "notoriously hateful" Japanese composer Koichi Sugiyama: "At tonight’s opener, the organizers used the music of Koichi Sugiyama, a notoriously homophobic and ultranationalist Japanese composer—despite warnings that it might go over very badly," reports The Daily Beast. "Sugiyama is a composer best known for his music created for The Dragon Quest game series, but he’s also well-known for his extremist views. He has worked with LGBTQ-bashers like the Liberal Democratic politician Mio Sugita. He’s denied the Nanjing Massacre by Japanese troops in the late 1930s. He has stated that the Korean women who were working as sexual slaves to the Japanese empire were actually happy-go-lucky prostitutes. He’s a misogynist who does not believe in the equality of the sexes, and a homophobe who doesn’t believe children should be taught about homosexuality or that LGBTQ people should receive government support as 'they don’t produce children.'"