Sheffield Doc/Fest Review: The Witches of the Orient

The team inspired a number of volleyball animated series

For an athlete the Olympic Games is the pinnacle of sporting achievement. An event which marks the culmination of years of training and dedication. However, there’s much more to Olympic success that personal or team glory. As a representative of your country, you carry the hopes and expectations of millions on your shoulders. When Japan hosted the competition in 1964, the whole weight of the nation rested on the women’s volleyball team.

Now in their seventies, the ‘Witches of the Orient’ were unbeatable on court. They were formed in the late 1950s as a workers’ team at a textile factory and went on to record 258 consecutive victories. Whilst their ability had the air of the supernatural, their success was largely down to a gruelling and often traumatising training schedule. Their story is told in Julien Faraut’s new documentary which borrows their nickname as its title.

The Witches of the Orient (Les Sorcières de l’Orient) uses contemporary interviews with the team spliced with rich archive footage and impressive manga. Indeed, the team’s success inspired a number of anime shows and they’re employed well here by Faraut. As is video of their arduous and intensive training sessions. It’s beautifully put together and enthralling throughout. The Witches of the Orient mixes fact and fable to create a fascinating portrait of remarkable women.

The Witches of the Orient screens at Sheffield Doc/Fest.

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