The film “The Witches of the Orient” is not some horror movie but rather a documentary about the Japanese women’s volleyball team that won a gold medal in the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
The team was the Nichibo Kaizuka volleyball team. Kaizuka is located 30 minutes south of Osaka. The team were all textile factory workers that worked during the day and trained after work. They were the best volleyball team in Japan and lost the final game at the 1960 Rio volleyball championship. But they gathered steam shortly after that defeat with a three-month European tour where the Europeans seemed so gigantic but height bowed to heart and the Japanese team crushed all competitors to the point they were almost magical and hence seen and described as “witches” which can be seen as a insult but as witches have magical powers the team was not offended.
So why such success? Relentless training under a coach named Daimatsu referred to as the “demon” in the Japanese press. He drove these young ladies with a relentless training schedule. Brutal, punishing and painful. Is this because he had some renown in Japan as surviving in the Burmese jungle in World War 2 for months commanding a group of soldiers that all survived their ordeal. Yes I went to a school in Montreal where there were World War 2 vets who must have seen horror like Daimatsu and these guys were relentless when it came to coaching sports teams and gymnastics. In fact our gym teacher was not Mr. Gibb but Major Gibb.
Daimatsu may have been emotionally damaged and he transferred his survival ordeal in molding a team that could not be defeated. Well the demon coach took these ladies to a gold medal in 1964 Tokyo. You can see the emotion gushing out after the gold medal match. Exhaustion and tears flowing like rivers. These ladies were like salmon dying after spawning.
We see some of the surviving team members piecing together their stories with archival footage and animation. A compelling story. Were they nothing more than machines at the textile factory they worked in? Are they symbolic of today’s Olympic athletes more machine than human?
And isn’t it interesting that none of the team members, now in their 70’s, express joy and happiness about their feat. They all seemed to teat it as their duty. So you may see this as an inspiring film but it can also be seen as unspoken criticism of the creation of super beings to compete against other super machines.
I don’t feel like a fish ready to snatch the bait on this film as a positive portrayal of Olympic athletes. It may be a more subtle criticism about the fanaticism of the Olympic games. You may need to read between the lines on this film.
It is a Franco-Japanese production directed by Julien Faraut who also directed “John McEnroe: In the Realm of Perfection”. The next screening will be on September 27th at the Kay Meek Centre in Vancouver which will be Virtual and In-Cinema. Keep your eye peeled for further screenings in Canada and abroad.
Japanese with English subtitles.