Monday, July 19, 2021

The Witches of the Orient - 2021 NBFF Documentary Review

The Documentary: The Witches of the Orient

The Director: Julien Faraut

The Story: The story of the 1964 Japanese Olympic volleyball team, the "Oriental Witches."

The Review:
Earlier this year, I watched a movie called Leap that told the story of the Chinese women's volleyball team and how dominant they were for many years and now we have this documentary which goes a bit farther into the way back machine and shifts over to Japan whose very own women's volleyball team had what is arguably the greatest stretch of dominance in all of sports history. Before watching these two films, I knew absolutely nothing about either team because here in America it's apparently very important to only talk about how dominant our own sports teams are because patriotism or something or other.

This movie, directed by French filmmaker Julien Faraut does a magnificent job of creating a documentary that is endlessly informative and is also high on the creative scale when it comes to this type of storytelling. One of my favorite things about the documentary is that Faraut tosses out the conventional talking head type of interview in favor of having the former volleyball players recount memories of their time on the team while showing footage of them participating in their current daily lives. It's quite a brilliant way to provide layers of information and context and relevance all in one fell swoop.

Instead of the women being stuck in their historical achievements, we get to see who they are now and how they are living their lives long after the glory of achieving historical dominance has faded into the past. We see them interact with their families and their friends and even with each other as they get together to reminisce about their years together while enjoying a pleasant reunion of sorts. Faraut also manages to show how the women have held onto the hard lessons they learned during their almost tortuous years of training as their coach Hirofumi Daimatsu shaped and molded them into the winning machine they inevitably became.

Another interesting fact about the players and their coach is that they were so popular in Japan during their run of dominance that artists and animators created volumes of manga and anime stories about them which oddly focused on the extremely intense training sessions that took place daily. I love how Faraut takes some of the anime clips and incorporates it seamlessly into the archival volleyball footage which enhances the impression that the women were so good you'd be convinced they had super powers of some sort. The director also creates the same type of intensity and tension during the volleyball scenes that you would experience if they were unfolding in real time which is impressive considering we basically know the outcome of every match.

The Verdict:
The Witches of the Orient is about as fun and informative of a documentary as you will find. Director Julien Faraut has created a very appropriate love letter to a group of women, and their coach, that deserve all the respect in the world. I am so happy to have watched this documentary both from a sports perspective and because it's such a well made and lovingly crafted piece of filmmaking.

To keep track of all my reviews and festival coverage please go to: TwoOhSix at NBFF 2021.

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