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Director of The Nagano Tapes explains the opening anime reference

People rediscovered the film and they can’t stop talking about it

Russia’s Sergei Krivokrasov (left) and Czech Republic’s Robert Reichel (right) battle for the puck at the 1998 Winter Olympics Photo: PA Images via Getty Images
Ana Diaz (she/her) is a culture writer at Polygon, covering internet culture, fandom, and video games. Her work has previously appeared at NPR, Wired, and The Verge.

Stop what you’re doing right now, and go watch the very beginning of The Nagano Tapes, a documentary on the Czech hockey team that competed at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games. Seriously, just watch the first 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Go ahead. We’ll wait.

[Warning: The following story contains spoilers for the opening sequence of The Nagano Tapes. You will ruin the surprise if you keep reading.]

OK, great! Now that you’re back, you now know the twist: The title sequence is an homage to the classic anime Neon Genesis Evangelion. The opening uses the theme song from the show, “A Cruel Angel’s Thesis,” and is meticulously edited so that it shows images of hockey and political turmoil in time to the song. It even uses a similar font as the anime.

While this isn’t necessarily recent news — The Nagano Tapes came out in 2018 — the film was recently rediscovered by people online thanks to a viral tweet.

The inclusion of Evangelion in the film surprised a lot of people online. But the documentary’s director, Ondřej Hudeček, tells Polygon that there were both narrative and personal reasons behind the decision to include elements from Evangelion. He wanted to start with a strong hook that introduced various topics of the documentary in an unexpected way. So, a “quick montage with a cheeky music seemed like a fun way to do it,” he told Polygon over Twitter.

“When I was looking for the right song that would do the trick, I remembered I was obsessed with Neon Genesis Evangelion in the late 90s when the Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan, took place, and it just clicked: the Japanese music, the use of title cards, the personal nostalgia, the subversive mix of hockey and anime…” Hudeček said.

So he tried to put together an opening montage that would work both as a narrative hook and as an homage to Evangelion, and it worked.

When asked if he experienced any pushback to including such an unconventional idea in his film, he said that initially, the producers were “quite surprised” by his choice, but that they “quickly fell in love with the idea and supported it all the way.”

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