Naomi Osaka Netflix documentary review

This three-part documentary gives us a glimpse into the highs and lows of a world-class athlete’s life.

Naomi Osaka Netflix documentary review

At only 23, tennis star Naomi Osaka has won 7 major championships, including the US Open and Australian Open. She has been ranked as the number one tennis player in the world, and is currently worth $60 million, making her the highest paid female athlete of all time

Netflix’s documentary, directed by Garrett Bradley and co-produced by basketball player LeBron James, aims to show what such accomplishments can do to a young person. The series doesn’t offer a definitive portrait of Osaka, but rather a snapshot of two years of her life, from 2019 to 2021. The result is a stylistic peek into the pressures and pleasures of Osaka’s life, but the audience is still kept at a safe distance, as she gives us her trademark reservedness in discussing her personal life off the court.

This is much the same attitude as the star has in keeping the press at bay. In May she withdrew from the French Open after being fined $15,000 for refusing to speak to the press, citing mental health issues. The documentary features clips of Osaka at press conferences moments after major losses at international tournaments, as she’s insensitively asked to describe how “devastated” she feels. Conversations about mental health in sports are currently gaining traction, and Osaka is joining the likes of gymnast Simone Biles in choosing self-preservation over publicity and trophies. 

Also explored in the series is Osaka’s mixed racial background, as her mother is Japanese and her father Haitian. Osaka recently elected for Japanese citizenship over American with an eye for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, and she has represented Japan since she began playing tennis. The documentary delves into Osaka’s activism for the Black Lives Matter movement, as she speaks about being told she’s “not black enough” by representing Japan, and yet in Japan she’s considered a ‘hāfu’ (half) in being mixed race. Osaka is juggling several identities as a Blasian woman, all of which are rightly becoming more prominent in the world of professional sports. 

We’re also shown the enjoyable perks that come with being a world-class athlete – Osaka gets to travel all over the world, explore her interest in fashion and financially support her family. It’s made clear however that all of this comes at a cost, which is a demanding training schedule. If Osaka isn’t on the court then she’s getting physiotherapy and organising commercial sponsorships. The overall impression given is of a frantic, but fruitful life. 

The average viewer looking for a relatable watch won’t find it in this documentary series, but we are left with a deep-seated admiration for Osaka and her self-discipline.

Header Image Credit: "Naomi Osaka" by Carine06 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0


Claire Jenns

Claire Jenns Kickstart Team

English Literature graduate, loves reading, writing and travel.

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