For a spellbinding period from the late 1950s to the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, one volleyball team ruled the international competition with a record-breaking undefeated 258-game streak. From their unlikely beginnings as a workers’ team from an Osaka textile factory, the Japanese national women’s team rose to global prominence and were dubbed ‘The Witches of the Orient’ due to their seemingly supernatural powers on the court.
Now in their 70s, the surviving members of the team reminisce on the punishing training drills and wild popularity they experienced, as the film deftly cuts between 16mm archival competition footage, present day interviews and striking scenes from the 1969/70 anime (Attack No.1!) that the ‘Witches’ inspired.
French documentarist Faraut has further honed his specialty in archival sports footage following the highly-acclaimed John McEnroe: In The Realm of Perfection (2018), once again mining gold from the French Sports Institute archive to tell the story of the ‘Witches’. The filmmaker’s ability to bridge the connection between sport, cinema and art has been lauded by critics and seen him credited as kickstarting a micro-genre of ‘the sports-documentary-that’s-not-really-about-sport’ (Variety).
Featuring an original score by American musician Jason Lytle (of indie rock group Grandaddy), The Witches of the Orient is a fascinating and energetic portrait of the women who captured the world’s attention and spawned a pop culture juggernaut still rumbling today.
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