Chihayafuru is one of my favorite anime of all time. Some of the very few that made my face leak involuntarily. To say I’m not anxious about how they’re going to execute and bring the anime to life would be a lie. It’s been shown time and again, live actions rarely do justice to the original manga/anime. Thus, I have a certain level of expectation for the live-action.
Fortunately, the overall cast, directing and cinematography manage to bring forth the true spirit of the original in the most beautiful way possible. The OST is also one of the best I’ve encountered for a LA and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.
The core of Chihayafuru (for me personally) is the strength of friendship and team spirit. Both themes have been recurring throughout the movie, budding from the friendship between Chihaya, Taichi and Arata when they are little as they dabble with competitive karuta. From there on, they share a common interest and connection which sadly begin to diminish as they grow up. Going their separate ways, Arata returns to his hometown because his grandfather who he loves and respects so much has taken ill while Taichi and Chihaya both enter different schools.
The movie is divided into 2 parts. Part 1 mainly deals with how Chihaya meets Taichi again in high school while she furiously campaigns for the karuta club, hoping to get 5 members (which is the minimum requirement to create a club). There is tangible connection between Taichi and Chihaya that goes way back when they are little. Similar to the anime, Taichi obviously has feelings for Chihaya who sadly is oblivious to it all.
After they manage to form the club and make new friends – Kana, Nishida (Nikuman), Tsutomu (Tsukue), each portrays very distinct characteristics. While Part 1 is good enough, I feel Part 2 is slightly more interesting and solid because of the addition of 2 very fascinating characters who play central roles towards the end of the show. They are Arata (who barely appears in Part 1) and Shinobu (Queen of Karuta).
Part II is also where you can feel a slight dynamic shift between Chihaya, Arata and Taichi. What surprises me a little is how the movie doesn’t dwell too long with the ‘love triangle’ between the 3 of them. The anime (if I remember correctly gives more hints and fan-service) but given the length of the movie and to cover so many things, I’m glad they keep that light. Afterall, their friendship is still the core of the story.
Perhaps, what disappoints me a bit is how Arata doesn’t get to play karuta as much and seems to spend most of the time mourning or brooding in the movie. Would’ve love more action from Arata. He also shares very little scenes with both Taichi and Chihaya (compared to anime). However, that’s not really a big deal because it’s already apparent from the way they act and thanks to some childhood scenes, their strong bond is believable.
What makes up for Arata’s lack of karuta action is his scenes with Shinobu who happens to be the youngest Karuta Queen. Due to the friendship/archenemy spirit she shares with Arata, there is unspoken mutual understanding and respect for each other. While Arata is soft-spoken and gentle, Shinobu comes across as arrogant and narcissist. The only thing that gets her easily excited is Snow Maru (a character).
Some of the best scenes I love personally are between these two. The tone is really different compared to the rest with well-crafted mature conversation and admiration for each other.
The climax is well executed with right balance of intensity and most importantly, I love how poignant the entire flow is. Perhaps, one can say, the use of slow-motion is excessive but they’re vital to showcase some of the speedy karuta actions and in turn, they come across as both intense but graceful at the same time.
The beauty of karuta is clearly portrayed.
Onto the cast, initially, I have reservations towards Suzu Hirose as Chihaya. Maybe it’s the face or the fact that Chihaya anime version has blonde hair (which would look really weird on an Asian I’m well aware lol with only a few that can pull it off). The casting for the rest of the characters are spot-on though.
Contrary to my qualms about Suzu Hirose’s casting, she does a pretty good job with the character who is obviously not easy to portray. She has a myriad of emotions from spacing out to getting excited easily to crying like a baby, gentle and yet clumsy. There are moments where she falters where the emotion doesn’t get transmitted but overall, good.
Both Mackenyu and Shuhei Nomura look like their anime counterparts and equally competent.
I’ve always been lured to Arata in the anime and again, I can’t help being fixated to him in the movie. Arata has always been a quiet demure guy but passionate towards karuta and it’s evident from Mackenyu’s portrayal, which I feel truly embodies the character. Like I mentioned, it’s a pity he doesn’t get to show more action. I do understand that he needs to go through the soul-searching journey to realize why he’s playing karuta.
The same can be said for Shinobu played by Mayu Matsuoka. Her character doesn’t get much screentime but still one of the highlights in Part 2, at some point, her scenes feel more engaging and solid than Chihaya’s. Every time she comes on screen, there’s always a creepy and ominous air permeating and all I can say is, Mayu nails the character. That smirk on her face 😄
Overall, you can feel the heart everybody put into the movie in order to do justice to the original material. Definitely one of the best live-actions.