The eyes of the world were once again focused on tennis star Naomi Osaka at this year’s Olympic Opening Ceremony as she fulfilled the honored role of lighting the cauldron in Tokyo. Just in time for the Olympics, Netflix released a new docuseries on July 16 which is devoted to the athlete, allowing audiences a peek at the motivations behind the champion. Directed by Garrett Bradley, the series chronicles Osaka’s meteoric journey to superstardom and how fame has shaped her personal and professional identity. The purpose of the limited series is simple: To answer the question, “Who is Naomi Osaka?” Simple as it may seem, the soft-spoken athlete possesses many qualities which may be unapparent to the the general public–and perhaps even to her most devoted fans.
The limited series is divided into three distinct parts, each covering one facet of Osaka’s life. The first episode, titled “Rise,” revolves around her storied athletic career in tennis, including many of her notable matches against heavy-hitting players like Serena Williams, Coco Gauff and Belinda Bencic. Beginning with her childhood, Osaka explains the drive to win which was instilled in her from the age of three and carries through to her performance today. Most importantly, “Rise” introduces Osaka’s battle with the immense pressure of being an “overnight superstar,” a struggle which becomes a recurring theme in the rest of the series.
“Champion Mentality” is the second episode of the series, and it catalogues some of Naomi’s many other personal pursuits outside of tennis. When not on the court, Osaka has made a name for herself in the world of fashion, partnering with major designers to produce her own collections. The second episode also looks at how Osaka deals with loss, both personally and professionally. The tennis player says that she is still trying to develop the ‘champion mentality,’ which she defines as “being able to deal with not playing at one hundred percent.” In line with this statement, the series shows how Osaka’s performance was negatively impacted by the tragic death of her professional mentor Kobe Bryant in Jan. of last year.
The third installment, “New Blueprint,” explores Osaka’s evolving presence in the realm of social activism and how she is leveraging her platform as an athlete to draw awareness to causes she believes in. Born to a Japanese mother and Haitian father, Osaka has always been subjected to racial scrutiny and discrimination from the public. However, as an athlete, she refrained from expressing her opinions in order to avoid controversy. Now she is speaking out. In light of the many police shootings of unarmed black Americans, Osaka wore face masks bearing the names of victims during each of her games in last year’s U.S. Open. This new part of her public persona is crucial to understanding Osaka as a person, and it will be interesting to see how she continues to use her voice in order to speak out against injustice.
The docuseries is a visual treat, full of beautifully muted colors and warm, grainy texture. Each shot is composed for maximum emotional and aesthetic impact–a rare feat which is sometimes difficult to achieve in the world of documentary filmmaking. The score is equally impressive, composed of symphonic pieces which aurally enhance the images on screen. A section of stringed instruments ebbs and swells with the emotion of the series, tying all three of the episodes together into a cohesive whole.
The “Naomi Osaka” series sheds light on parts of the tennis player’s life that would interest both fans and casual viewers alike. With each episode clocking in at only 40 minutes, the series is very digestible and can easily be broken up into multiple viewings. It’s a captivating look at someone who is at the top of their sport, both a powerful athlete and vulnerable 23-year-old at once.
“Naomi Osaka” is available to stream now on Netflix.