Chihayafuru Part II (Chihayafuru: Shimo no Ku)
Japan (2016) Dir. Norihiro Koizumi
This second part of this live action trilogy adaptation of Yuki Suetsugu’s manga and the very popular anime TV series wastes no time in getting right back into the story, so newcomers will find themselves at a huge disadvantage. Or they could check out my review of part one for all the background info required to follow this continuation.
Karuta obsessed Chihaya Ayase (Suzu Hirose) travels with best friend Taichi Mashima (Shūhei Nomura) to pay a visit to their old friend and fellow Karuta player Arata Wataya (Mackenyu). Unfortunately, they show up just as Arata’s grandfather and Karuta mentor has passed away, causing Arata to quit the game but Chihaya’s overbearing enthusiasm to get Arata playing again leads to a bitter departure.
Meanwhile the national competition is looming and as the junior members of Chihaya’s team – Yūsei Nishida (Yūma Yamoto) aka Meat Bun, Tsutomu Komano (Yūki Morinaga) aka Desk and Kanade Ōe (Mone Kamishiraishi) – train to improve their game, Taichi and Chihaya are playing for Class A rank. Chihaya however has a major obstacle to overcome in the form of the undefeated Queen, Shinobu Wakamiya (Mayu Matsuoka).
Presumably filmed at the same time as its predecessor, director Norihiro Koizumi once again is tasked with cramming the second half of the first anime TV series into a 100-minute film. This time the liberties taken with the chronology of key events as well as a revamped script is far more noticeable this time around, but unlike other live-action adaptations Koizumi doesn’t wander off the beaten track.
In other words this is a live action film that doesn’t compromise the integrity of its source material and stays within the boundaries of the storyline, avoiding the infuriating habit found in many Japanese adaptations of creating a new plot or ending in response to the problem of not being able to adapt the original conclusion, for whatever reason, that fans are already familiar with.
As per the previous film, the narrative is different yet still familiar and true to the essence of the anime/manga, achieving that rare status of a film series that doesn’t alienate the existing audience nor proves burdensome for newbies alike. Of course, anyone watching this second instalment will already have seen the first film thus knows exactly what they are getting, and shouldn’t be disappointed.
The most significant addendum found in this continuing chapter is the Queen, Shinobu Wakamiya. This isn’t a self-adopted epithet or even a sign of reverence from her fellow Karuta competitors but an officially recognised and earned title. Shinobu has been undefeated for four years and her fearsome reputation precedes her, from the local leagues to the nationals.
Bordering on a cliché Shinobu is aloof and frosty, rarely smiling as she descends upon the competition venue, everyone looking on in a mixture of awe and terror. Her past and involvement in Karuta isn’t explained in this film but in the anime, she is another child prodigy of the game. Shinobu’s motivations are not made clear but beneath her haughty demeanour, it is implied that maybe she is tired of having no real competition.
Unsurprisingly, Chihaya is the one we all know is heading for a showdown with Shinobu but is she up to facing the Queen? The early part of this film deals with the growing divide between Chihaya and Arata, the latter’s decision to quit Karuta not sitting well with his friends. Taichi is completely understanding about it but Chihaya can’t let it go and begins to question her own dedication to the game.
Luckily, the others are keeping the team’s dream alive, with Meat Bun, Desk and Kanade taking their training seriously in the face of obstructions at school and the absence of their senior players. Taichi takes a solo training course which Chihaya later does once the efforts of the others perks her up and helps her get her mojo back.
This where the story shows signs of an order shuffle – a bout of exhaustion for Chihaya, which costs her an important team match, is moved to later in the timeline for that added drama and tension on the eve of her singles match against Shinobu. In the anime this happened much sooner but it works just as well as fork in the road ahead of such a vital contest.
In contrast to the first film, the humour is scarce this time round, save for a few bursts of uncharacteristic excitement from Shinobu at seeing Chihaya’s cartoon designed towel. More tears are shed in this chapter as part of the fallout between Arata and Chihaya and the inevitable reunion, while Arata indulges in some soul searching to see if he can rediscover his passion for Karuta and move on from grieving for his grandfather.
Once again, time restrictions apply to showing the preliminary Karuta games in any detail, saving the attention for the singles matches and the Shinobu vs. Chihaya clash. Aside from a slight CGI assistance in capturing the cards flying towards the camera, everyone involved in the games, from the main cast to the extras, are playing for real, demonstrating the skill required to secure a victory.
The returning cast are now comfortable in their roles and remain fun to watch, buttressed by new addition, Mayu Matsuoka. At 22, she should be too old to play Shinobu but this maturity works in her favour in conveying the steely confidence and affected ennui that belies her slight appearance. Forgive the backhanded compliment but Matsuoka has a wonderful face for a major villainous role, which I hope is in her future.
Smartly working around the limitations as opposed to working against them, Norihiro Koizumi again delivers a solid and enjoyable second instalment of this live-action adaptation that shouldn’t deter existing Chihayafuru fans. A third film is due in 2018 to round things off, apparently with a movie exclusive new character, so fingers crossed we end up with a satisfying trilogy.