The Witches of the Orient (Dir. Julien Faraut, 2021)
Date: December 11, 2021
Location: 2220 Arts + Archives
Address: 2220 Beverly Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90057
Director Julien Faraut and composer Jason Lytle (Grandaddy) in person!
Co-presented by MUBI, UniFrance, and the Yanai Initiative for Globalizing Japanese Humanities.
How did a group of humble factory workers become a phenomenal sports success story and the pride of an entire nation? Julian Faraut’s (John McEnroe: In The Realm of Perfection) ferociously innovative and visually stunning The Witches of the Orient tells the tale of the Japanese women’s volleyball team’s thrilling rise, unbelievable 258 games winning streak, and eventual Olympic gold at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.
United by their jobs in a textile factory, the Japanese women’s volleyball team chased absolute perfection under the guidance of their grueling coach Hirofumi Daimatsu. His methods were so tough that in Japan, he was known as “the Demon,” with his intense, endless practice sessions, shaping the team into a force to be reckoned with. While the west viewed Japan as an alien upstart in the postwar years, it didn’t prevent the team from striking fear in the hearts of their competitors, earning them the racist and dismissive moniker “oriental witches.” Less an underdog tale than a saga of overwhelming determination that simultaneously subverts and feeds an orientalized mystique, The Witches of the Orient conjures the tenor and tone of the team’s grip on the imagination of an entire nation seeking renewal and acceptance on the world stage of the post-war era.
Faraut’s sparkling documentary uses fantastic manga and anime sequences, such as Attack no 1 (1968), with archival footage of blood-curdling matches, intense training sessions (driven by rhythmic editing and great music from French musician K-Raw, as well as two original songs by Grandaddy's Jason Lytle) with testimony from the now-octogenarian teammates. The result charts the Witches’ meteoric rise without losing their overwhelmingly vital spirit. The joy of the Witches’ success is infectious and offers a hopeful prelude to the 2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.
In person: Julien Faraut and Jason Lytle.
Screening to be followed by a Q&A and a reception in the 2220 lounge.
*All pre-order ticket buyers will be entered to win a limited edition vinyl release of Lytle's two original songs from the film. Five copies will be raffled off the night of the screening. Pre-order above.
Elegantly restores the glow of legend, saving the champions the trouble of having to explain their heroism in words.
Teo Bugbee, The New York Times
Not only offers a fresh approach to documentary style but also draws out the tension between reality and artifice, private and public memory.
Phoung Le, The Guardian
More than presenting the mere facts of history, the film explores how a series of events can capture the attention of a culture at large, and what that means for the people at its center.
Dan Schindel, Hyperallergic
This is one of those documentaries that does what historical documentaries should do: it takes a monumental achievement that the viewer might not know about and gives it the presentation and love it deserves.
Sean Fallon, Film Inquiry
Fusing exquisitely shot color 16mm footage from 1964 of the team's training sessions, drone-like music and splices of animation, we get a delirious sense of what these committed women endured six out of seven days a week.
Robert Abele, The Los Angeles Times