Olympic Games | The Guardian
F.Based on the philosophical tennis documentary John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection, Julien Faraut returns with another unusual, enigmatic sports film, this time tracing the extraordinary journey of the undefeated Japanese women’s volleyball team in the 1960s. Assembled from a group of factory workers, these young, initially amateur athletes, under the rigorous and reckless training of head coach Hirofumi Daimatsu, made extraordinary efforts to improve their skills. As gold medal winners at the 1964 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, the team celebrated a series of 258 victories, earned the nickname “witches” abroad and inspired a number of popular culture tributes, most notably Chikako Urano’s Attack No 1 manga series.
Faraut’s selection of materials ranges from interviews with surviving team members now over 70 years old to archival footage of their exercises and games, all using scenes from the anime adaptation of Attack No 1. By connecting real-life events to theirs The film not only offers animated interpretations a new approach to documentary style, but also spans the tension between reality and artificiality, private and public memory. One of the most fascinating sequences is a training montage in which Faraut cleverly dismantles an old newsreel that the team is showing in their fabric factory. The rhythm of the movements of the women rolling on the floor to catch the ball – their training involves redesigning their bodies as roll dolls – mirrors the factory machines producing fresh cotton, with a swooning, intoxicating effect.
The image of the machine is particularly important here, as the film contextualizes how the team’s success was critical to reinventing post-war Japan that sought to regain a foothold on the international stage. The last Olympic sequence keeps the audience in suspense, although we know the result. To hang over the shoulders of these young women is not only their pride but also that of the nation.
The Witches of the Orient will appear in cinemas and on digital platforms on July 16.