Witches of the Orient: Japan’s Legendary Women’s Volleyball Team

As the Tokyo Olympic Games approach, we are excited to have partnered with Moderna Films to bring you a virtual screening of ‘Witches of the Orient’, on general release from 16th July 2021.

Meet the former players of the Japanese women’s volleyball team. Now in their 70s, they used to be known as the ‘Witches of the Orient’ because of their seemingly supernatural powers on the courts. From the formation of the squad in the late 1950s as a worker’s team at a textile factory, right up until their triumph at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, their memories and true magic from long ago bubble up into a heady brew where fact and fable fly hand in hand.

Directed by French documentary maker Julien Faraut, ‘Witches of the Orient’ brings to life the story of Kinuko Tanida, Katsumi  Matsumura, Yoko Shinozaki and Yoshiko Matsumura. These inspiring women took the volleyball world by storm during the 1960s, taking on the reigning champions from the Soviet Union at the 1962 world championships and 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

The film idea was first conceived by Faraut around ten years ago when Ralph Hippolyte, a former national volleyball coach, brought him a reel of 16mm volleyball film. Produced by the Japanese Olympic Committee in 1964, this reel of film introduced him to the magical world of the witches, inspiring him to tell their story. 

Anime fans will be interested to know that ‘Witches of the Orient’ features archival competition footage, interspersed with segments from Attacker You! – a popular 1960s Japanese anime and manga based on a women’s volleyball team. The film also contains modern day audio and film recordings from the 4 ‘witches’, all tied together by an emotion-evoking soundtrack including ‘Honor When We Leave’, written for the film by Grandaddy’s Jason Lyttle. 

“I was personally very inspired by the strength of these  women, their tenacity and their immense modesty.  With this film I hope to pay them the greatest tribute” 

– Julien Faraut

Witches of the Orient is out in UK/Ireland cinemas from Friday 16th July but if you want a taste of what’s to come, check out the official UK trailer on YouTube!

You can watch Witches of the Orient from the comfort of your own home – just head to the Japan Centre Virtual Screening Room: www.modernfilms.com/witchesoftheorient/japancentre

(Please note that if you pre-order before the official release date, you’ll receive an email on 16th July with a link to watch the film).

Let us know what you think of the trailer or the film in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you.

Words by Emily Lovell