Japanese Film Festival 2016 Film Review: Chihayafuru Part 1 (Japan, 2016)

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Chihayafuru Part 1 & Part 2 is a wonderful, addicting story of friendship and of self-development. If you’re going to go in for Part 1 make sure you have Part 2 booked and lined up soon after because you’re going to want to watch them back to back. For the purposes of my review I have split it into Part 1 and Part 2 but whispers I watched Part 2 as soon as I could. Totally couldn’t let the characters go! I’ll also explain here that I haven’t read the magna or watched the anime- but they are now lined up like a Karuta card waiting for me to grab them.

So let’s get started- Part 1!

The story revolves around our heroine Chihaya Ayase (Suzu Hirose), who introduces herself as one who can only see Chi Ha. The explanation of course being her obsession with the traditional Japanese card game Karuta, but as the story develops we see her love is more for just the game. Her two closest friends are fellow Karuta players Taichi (Shuhei Nomura) and Arata (Mackenyu), the later has however moved away and they now barely communicate. Determined that Karuta will keep their friendship alive Chihaya convinces Taichi to start a Karuta club at their high school.

Initially reluctant, stating they are too old for the game, Taichi agrees (never one to say no to his Chihaya wink) and soon we are introduced to new team mates: A-Ranked Nishida (Yuma Yamoto), and total newbies custom-loving Kanade (Mone Kamishiraishi) and nerdy “Mr Desk” Tsutomu (Yuki Morinaga). Let the training montages begin!

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Quick crash course about Karuta- essentially the game is a quick draw. A “Reader” recites half of a traditional poem, and players need to be the first to touch the card with the other half of the poem. With only 100 poems players need to be fast enough to recognize it within the first sound of the first character, and then viciously slap the card away from their opponents reach. It’s quite physical for a card game! (and looks like a lot of fun). The explanations of the poems and their really rather beautiful meanings throughout the film also add to the interest of the game. It’s certainly more than old-fashioned customs and boring poetry!

Whilst we deviate here I’ll also say that I really enjoyed the acting in both Chihayafurus- I felt like everyone did a superb job at creating real and honest characters that you could really connect with.

Ok back to it! We find out that Arata actually taught Chihaya and Taichi Karuta, and that his grandfather was a Master. There’s also a bit of a love triangle going on between these three friends, but I appreciated how it didn’t actually get in the way of the main storyline. It was enough, but the real core focus of the film was about friendship and self, and I loved that.

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And there were certainly many lessons to be learnt along the way in these areas, many to be taught from the trio’s original Karuta teacher’s Mr Harada (Jun Kunimura)- who wakes Taichi up from one of his self-doubting reveres with a fierce “how hard you try? You’ve only just begun!”

Soon our new favourite Karuta team are on their way to their Regional tournament to try and secure their place at Nationals. Although strengthening, their teamwork has yet to quite get where it needs to, and this is reflected in their playing. Aware of her teammates situation Chihaya determinedly attempts to strengthen their ties. On one of the cards there is a poem that reads “for there is no one else out there”. Initially the meaning is taken to be a cry of loneliness, however Chihaya explains that for her the poem means a strong bond. That together with her team mates they have this strong bond that can help them succeed and that there is no one else out there but them. The five begin to play whilst being more aware of each other, firing each other up and congratulating each other and through this strength they secure their place at Nationals *cheers*

A celebrating Chihaya and Taichi called Arata to tell him the good news, but he simply states in return “I’m giving up Karuta”.

And so concludes Part 1! What did I say? Of course you’re going to want to watch Part 2 straight away!

Review score: FOUR AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Chihayafuru Part 1 will be screening in Sydney on the 25th November and in Melbourne on the 26th November and 2nd December.

The Japanese Film Festival is in Sydney until the 27th November, then in Melbourne from the 24th November to the 4th December.

Visit Japanese Film Festival for more information and session times.