It is only apropos to celebrate the Tokyo Olympics with a new documentary that celebrates the game changing feats of Olympians that competed in the last Tokyo Games. As visually stylish as it is overall captivating, THE WITCHES OF THE ORIENT takes a solidly crafted look at a fascinating chapter of Olympic history with Japan’s women volleyball team that shook the world, injected hope in a population still suffering from post-WWII traumas, cultural stereotypes, and changing norms.
Fusing exquisitely shot color 16mm footage from 1964 of the team’s training sessions, drone-like music and splices of animation (the athletes also sparked the popularity of manga and anime), creating, at times, a Tokyo-pop supercut, drawing out the tension between reality and artifice, private and public memory. This is contrasted with the athletes who reunite today, now octogenarians, who have lived full lives as civilian workers, homemakers and “obachans.” They look fondly at their accomplishments, with the resident Japanese humility, but also pride as world-class athletes that forever changed a nation.
THE WITCHES OF ORIENT, as they were dubbed back in the day, is obviously a dated phrase. But, it does lend a mythical tone to the film. The film is exclusively streaming as this month’s HIFF SELECTS. Therefore, if you are following this unique “sixteen days of glory,” accentuate it by viewing this truly unique story that is captivating, stylishly edited and ultimately rousing.