is sort like baseball and boxing. It offers a competitive advantage to
southpaws—and there the similarities end. Using waka poetry cards derived from
the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, players try
to snatch away the verses that follow the stanza chanted by the reader. Or
something like that. Chihaya Ayase is a natural. Arata Wataya is even better.
Taichi Mashima is just okay, but together they were an unbeatable team in grade
school. Unfortunately, family circumstances split them apart, but a passion for
the game might just bring them back together in Norihiro Koizumi’s adaptation
of the manga and anime franchise, Chihayafuru
Parts 1 & 2 (trailers
here and here),
which screened on successive nights during the 2016 Fantasia International Film Festival.
passion for karuta can be a little overwhelming at times, but that is what it
will take to start a new club in her high school. Naturally, she is overjoyed
when Mashima transfers to her class, but he will need a bit of convincing.
Their former rival Yusei Nishida (a.k.a. “Meat Bun Guy”) soon joins up. It will
take some arm-twisting, but eventually they recruit Kanade Ooe and Tsutomu
Komano (a.k.a.”Mr. Desk”), capitalizing on her love for traditional Japanese culture
and his elitist pretensions. It will take a while for them to gel as a team,
but they will have the wise council of their former teacher, Hideo Harada, who
knows Mashima and Wataya as “Eye-lashes Boy” and “Glasses Boy,” respectively.
they start competing, Ayase is their only A-level player, but Meat Bun will
soon join her. Of course, all the top high school karuta gunslingers will be
looking for her. Unfortunately, she will let herself get sidetracked by her
perhaps unrequited (or perhaps not) love for Wataya and her obsession with
left-handed Shinobu Wakamiya, “The Queen,” or the top-rating woman karuta
player in Japan (and hence the world), despite still being in high school
herself. Meanwhile, poor luckless Mashima continues to carry a torch for Ayase.
a lovely, lovely film, or rather duology. If they screened it in high schools,
it could inspire a karuta craze among American teenagers. The five Mizusawa
High players are all ridiculously cute kids, but they also have realistically
complex personalities. Two back-to-back films totalling nearly four hours might
sound excessive, but viewers will miss spending time with them when it ends. Of
course, it starts with Suzu Hirose, whose career is just exploding with Chihayafuru and Kore-eda’s Our Little Sister. As Ayase, she is both
forceful and vulnerable—and altogether winning.
entire ensemble is engaging, most definitely including Shuhei Nomura, who
compellingly humanizes the somewhat moody Mashima. Mone Kamishiraishi and Yuki
Morinaga give Ooe and Mr. Desk nuance and dimension beyond their character
quirks, while the crafty veteran Jun Kunimura dispenses wisdom as Harada with seemingly
effortless élan. Viewers will have to wait for the second film to see Mayu
Matsuoka in action as the Queen, but she will definitely make her regal
Koizumi helms with a light touch, letting his
young cast keep it real. Masaru Yokoyama’s medium up-tempo score also subtly
reinforces the bittersweet vibe. Amazingly, even though the films leave so much
unresolved (exactly like real life), the audience will feel like they are
skipping on air when the final credits roll. These films will just totally
recharge your batteries. Recommended with tremendous affection, Chihayafuru Parts 1 & 2 next screen
internationally at Bucheon on Thursday (7/28), following their North American
premiere at this year’s Fantasia.
Labels: Fantasia '16, Japanese Cinema, Karuta, Manga-based films