Tokyo Olympics Closing Ceremony Review: Bring On Paris 2024, Please; Near Empty Stadium Event Ends With “Arigato”

Ultimately lacking the Covid catastrophe or shutdown that many predicted, the Tokyo Olympics officially ended today in a near empty somber stadium with little more than a handful of athletes and a Japanese term for “thank you” on the jumbotron

“Arigato,” indeed.

“The Olympic Games of Tokyo 2020 were the games of hope, solidarity and peace,” said a masked I.O.C. chief Thomas Bach in his thankfully short speech just before the flame was extinguished around 10 PM local time. Using clichés like “unprecedented” and “steadfast commitment” to describe an already delayed Games than many in Japan and around the world felt should be pushed back again as coronavirus case surged in the host city and the Delta variant struck globally, Bach struck a hackney note and received scant applause as he thanked organizers of the pricey event for “staying with us on the side of the athletes.”

Now, NBC will undoubtedly window dress it all up in primetime with heartwarming American athletes segments and the trio of Johnny Weir, Terry Gannon, and Tara Lipinski back again to host the tape delayed multi-ring circus for the Comcast-owned network. Even with the US beating China in the closely watched Gold medal count 39 to 38, for all the technical and patriotic dexterity of the network and the broadcasting skills of the former figure skater and his companions, they will have their work cut out for them.

Lacking the showstopper of sorts of Rio 2016’s closer when then Japanese PM Sinzo Abe showed up as Super Mario to take the reins for the next Games, the end of what was supposed to have been Tokyo 2020 was primarily soft rock when it could have been the legendary Flower Travelin’ Band. Then again, with all the thumps battering a Games being held in a city under a state of emergency from Covid and infections hitting Olympics themselves almost daily, perhaps it was the best that could be expected.

Regardless, the comparison to the Paris 2024 games was certainly stark in its handover.

There wasn’t a video game icon to be seen, but the cheering and drapeau français draped crowds from the City of Lights filling the screen shined bright. Not to say they were rubbing Tokyo’s face in the realities of this year, but highlighted by rooftop BMX riders, break-dancers, jets and a sax solo from space, the live feed preview of the next Summer Olympics was slick, vibrant and joyous. Though, let’s be honest, the shot of the flag flying from the Eiffel Tower and the short pep talk from Emmanuel Macron respectively had bad photoshop and a re-election campaign ad written all over them.

Let’s get it started!

Les Jeux Olympiques de #Paris2024 commencent !

Ouvrons ensemble un nouveau chapitre des Jeux.

Together, let’s write a new chapter of the Olympic Games.

🔵🟡⚫️🟢🔴 pic.twitter.com/0QGjXfpvGY

— Paris 2024 (@Paris2024) August 8, 2021

In fact, take away the unspoken relief that it didn’t all go terribly wrong, and the special effects of the multitude of lights forming into the inevitable Olympics rings (which was not seen in National Stadium itself other than on TV monitors), and the Closing Ceremony of the delayed Games of the XXXII Olympiad streamed live from Japan this morning was a mainly muted local affair. A contrast to the triumphalism it so obviously was intended to display internationally before the global health crisis hit last year.

The Olympic spirit is in all of us.

A display of beautiful, luminous colours swirl together, representing the many flags of the world.

They form the Olympic Rings, a timeless symbol of unity. #StrongerTogether #Tokyo2020 #ClosingCeremony pic.twitter.com/38dv0e0w98

— Olympics (@Olympics) August 8, 2021

Actually, because of coronavirus protocols, most competing participants left Japan this year within 48 hours of the end of their event.

Which meant what was left was a drawn-out duty of combined entrance of the mainly masked remaining athletes with few even bothering to mug for the cameras. That slow-ish march of Olympians was preceded at the very beginning of the more than two-hour Closing Ceremony by a greatest hits video montage of the last two weeks since the July 23rd opening and then marred by a historically uncomfortable presentation of the flag by Japan’s Self-Defense Force. Even with an emphasis on equity as exemplified in the medal presentation of the women’s Olympic marathon being embedded in the closing ceremony along with the traditional men’s marathoners, the pace and poise of the Olympic Broadcasting Services raw footage streamed this morning on the NBCSports app and website this morning seemed like a meander to the end rather than a victory lap.

Having seen the plans for the Takayuki Hioki executive produced Closing Ceremony in advance. perhaps that’s why NBC, pummeled by low viewership and multi-platform coverage, decided after all to not even slap the stream up on Peacock this AM.

With Crown Prince Akishino and I.O.C. boss Bach in the VIP box and a diversity theme of “Worlds We Share,” most of today’s show was an uneven mixtape celebration of the culture of the Asian power and brow moping acknowledgement of the pandemic.

Yet, with necessary tributes to the thousands of volunteers who helped pull off this most awkward of Olympics, it was not a natural combo — to say the least.

An interpretive day in the park packed with white jacketed Jazz musicians, superstar Milet singing “Hymne à l’amour,” and award-winning DJ Matsunaga taking to the decks got the toes taping and heartbeat going. The overdue pounding of massive taiko drums, which were oddly missing from the July 23 opening ceremony, continued that context and presented a welcoming direction. Still, relatively somber interpretive dance performances representing Japan’s indigenous Ainu people and the upcoming Obon festival that followed were beautiful, but reeked of a built-in cut to commercial opportunity on this side of the Pacific.

What will be seen and not seen by American audiences this evening with undoubtedly trivia filled commentary by Weir, Gannon, and Lipinski is likely being determined and edited right now.

However, based on this morning’s ceremony, it may not be a bad idea for NBC to switch it up a bit ASAP and recruit Kevin Hart, Snoop Dogg and SNL’s Leslie Jones to the big booth. The Jumanji franchise star and the hip hop legend scored Gold with their acclaimed Olympics Highlights commentary show over the Games. And, like she has over the past couple of Olympics, the Coming 2 America actor has owned social media with her take on what’s been going down in Tokyo.

No disrespect to the talents of Weir, Gannon and Lipinski, but Hart, the D, O, double G and Jones are exactly who we need to end these Olympics.

Please.

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