Les Ninjas du Japon
4.10.08 by Buffalo Bill
Professional bicycle racing is a manifestation of almost unrestrained venality. Anyone who has stood in an alpine meadow, waiting for the Tour de France to pass by, will know what I mean. Noisome crowd, cheap entertainments of the most vulgar kind, public drunkenness, all thronged to watch a 4 000 motor vehicle procession, with a thin slice of athletic endeavour nestling precariously in its bosom. All serious students of cycle sport will know that races and racers exist solely to promote goods and services, and that the sport has a deeply corrupt, and corrupting, heart. And yet the sport provides a stage for young men and women to transcend the shallowness of commerce and create an entrancing spectacle.
Les Ninjas du Japon is a film which follows a team of Japanese riders participating in the 2006 Tour du Faso, the biggest stage race currently run in Africa. It was shown last night in London as part of the Bicycle Film Festival.
I don’t know if its maker, Giovanni Giommi, had the intention to deal with the bigger question of why professional sport exists, what its purpose is. But perhaps because I have just read The Sweat of the Gods, a history of cycle sport by Benio Maso, I found myself pondering this question. The film also deals very well with the absurdity of transplanting the organisation and ethos of a modern European stage race to a desperately poor African country, and with the inevitable difficulties of comprehension between the African hosts and their Japanese guests. And why Mercedes Benz is the most popular motor car in Burkina Faso. And who or what Sankara is.
It is also one of the greatest films I have ever seen about bicycle racing. So far from a Bromley Video production featuring the platitudes of of Liggett and company as to make you wonder if it could be the same sport. Some of the racing sequences genuinely made you feel you were there, choking on the dust, in the fields watching the race go by, or sitting in a chair, trying not to scream as a medic stitches your torn flesh back together.
I found it very funny, moving and left the cinema with all kinds of questions running around my head. I would happily watch this film again, at least 10 times. For those of you in cities where the BFF has yet to arrive on its 2008 tour, I urge you to go and see this film, no matter what else is going on that weekend. It’s beautiful, compelling cinema.