‘The Witches of the Orient’ Review: Symphony of a Sports Team

In the experimental documentary “The Witches of the Orient,” the women of the 1964 Japanese Olympic volleyball team recount their whirlwind to gold-medal glory. The former champions wittyly and graciously tell their story in new interviews, while the film uses chic archival footage to establish a mythical retelling of their victory.

The team members met when they were workers at a garment factory in Kaizuka, Japan, where they were known as Nichibo Kaizuka after the company name and city name. To their European competitors, they were known by the racist moniker Oriental Witches. Some viewers joked that his skill stemmed from magic, but the film shows that his ability came from careful practices. Players scramble for the ball, dove and jump, and their efforts were filmed by the Japanese Olympic Committee in 1964. That footage has now been recycled into this documentary.

In these remarkable archival recordings, the youth faces of the team glow in front of bright green, red or white uniforms, and are shown on the court as accurately as they are in the factory. When director Julian Farout began sharing the team’s practice scenes with shots 1984 animated series That he inspired, the deduction from real events to the illustrations appears effortless.

Farout films the members of Nichibo Kazuka in the present day, but he wisely concentrates archival footage and animation in his film, creating a collage from pieces from the past and present. The montages are set to a hip electronic score, complete with portished needle drops. If the team was ridiculed by their prejudicial (and defeated) enemies at the moment of their success, this documentary grandly restores the luminosity of the legend, saving the champions the trouble of explaining their heroism in words.

The Witches of the Orient
not evaluated. In Japanese, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes. in Theaters.

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