LOS ANGELES (Variety.com): The Olympic Games got underway a year late and after much rethinking - not to mention behind the scene drama and protests -- on Friday (July 23) in Tokyo. Its opening ceremony, without spectators in the stadium, began in both spectacular and ethereal fashion.
With a mixture of pre-recorded film and live performances in the stadium, the opening ceremony opened with fireworks around the top of the roof-less stadium in indigo, blue and white in the shape of a fan, an auspicious symbol in Japan.
As well as interpretative dances enacting traditional practices from Japanese culture including woodwork, there was also a sequence with athletes, dressed in white, practising alone across the stadium on exercise equipment including treadmills, rowing machines and stationary bikes and some even on imaginary equipment, mimicking the actions, representing the isolation and challenges represented by the last eighteen months.
Naruhito, the Emperor of Japan, joined Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympics Committee, in a stadium almost entirely empty of spectators, due to COVID-19. Instead, a dappled light technique was enacted on the vacant seats to soften the effect of an otherwise empty stadium.
In a nod to Japan's leading video games industry, each country's delegates entered the stadium with their flags against a medley of orchestral arrangements of video game music, including "Super Mario" and "DragonQuest".
The Tokyo Olympic Stadium has been heavily and expensively renovated. At 8pm local time the Japanese capital was cloaked in darkness and the stadium was surrounded by skyscrapers that were only partially lit up.
Much of Japan remains under 'state of emergency' conditions which necessitate multiple layers of health precautions. Both the International Olympic Committee and the Japanese government have pressed ahead, mindful of the loss of face and the contractual penalties they would incur had the Games been called off.
"After a long tunnel, an exit is now in our sight," Japanese Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide said.
"The world is faced with great difficulties. Now is the time that we have to learn to unite. And, with the efforts and wisdom of mankind, we will have to deliver the Games so we can do that."
Nevertheless, the restrictions and cost have made the Games particularly unpopular among the Japanese public. Late changes, including the decision earlier this month to exclude spectators from many venues, and more than 90 confirmed Covid cases among accredited Olympic officials and athletes, have made this a high risk affair.
Local reports said that anti-Olympic protesters had gathered in the Harajuku area, and that police were moving aside passers-by in order to let the demonstrations proceed.
According to different local polls, some 50-80% of the Japanese population are against the holding of the Games under current circumstances.
The re-scheduled Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games has 46 sports and will play out with some 11,000 athletes at 42 venues across Japan. In total, 206 National Olympic Committees are represented at the Games.
Although NBC is of paramount importance among overseas broadcasters, it is far from the only one. The Asia Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU), the Asian equivalent of Eurovision, is a direct partner of the IOC.
Its ABU Sports wing signed a contract with the IOC in 2018 to distribute the Games to six countries in South Asia - Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. It also struck deal with media giant Dentsu to distribute the Games to five other countries in South-East Asia, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Timor Leste and Afghanistan. With its own broadcast centre in Tokyo the ABU is also providing transmission and logistics to its members.