We love creating myths round winners, to take them far-off from actuality and humanity, however Garrett Bradley’s Netflix sequence Naomi Osaka does simply the reverse. At 23, the rising Haitian-Japanese-American tennis star has already received 4 grand slam titles, however she’s additionally struggled to maintain up with the incessant demand to maintain profitable. She repeatedly refers to herself as “a vessel” all through the three episodes — a receptacle of different folks’s love and aspirations, a deep supply of unbridled excellence, but additionally one thing anticipated to stay inert whereas others fill or empty it. “For so long, I’ve tied winning to my worth as a person,” she confesses at one level. The documentary has come out proper earlier than the Summer time Olympics, the place Osaka can be representing Japan, and weeks after she controversially withdrew from the French Open in a bid to prioritize her psychological well being.
Osaka doesn’t converse as a lot as the normal documentary protagonist. We particularly are inclined to anticipate verbosity from athletes, whose lives and public pictures are so closely manufactured and manicured. As an alternative she’s soft-spoken and weak, making her quiet absorption of every defeat heartbreaking. Bradley is one of the few documentary filmmakers who can convey each this vulnerability and Osaka’s immense braveness and willpower. (She does the similar superbly with Sybil Richardson in Time.) She makes use of Osaka’s story as a medium by means of which the complicated traces of race, nationhood, and gender intersect. Bradley doesn’t flip her right into a mythic determine, however she’s no much less of a phenomenon.