It is hard to imagine how a series about professional karuta, a traditional Japanese card game, could be so exciting, yet it is. Chihayafuru is one of the greatest ‘sports’ anime of all time if you could really classify it as such. The series imbues every moment with genuine excitement and a sense of beauty that is truly incomparable. One of my first thoughts when I heard it had been adapted to not one but two live action films was how would they capture the beauty of the animation, to my surprise they did it by doing something very simple; showcasing the game of karuta in reality for all its true to life wonder.
These two Chihayafuru films definitely go hand in hand, as is the reason why we have decided to review them together. The first film follows karuta fanatic Chihaya as she reconnects with friends of the past and builds new friendships over the game of karuta, all in the lead up to the epic tournament finale that closes the first film out.
That first film really does stand on its own, that said the second film does everything the first does but only bigger and better. It is a fantastic sequel that introduces the greatest rival of Chihaya’s life in Shinobu played by a show stealing Mayu Matsuoka. Watching Part 1 and 2 back to back works best in all honesty as the films flow together perfectly, seemingly making for one long form epic.
What really stands out to me about these films is the way in which the game of karuta is presented. Karuta is a card based game which requires the player to have keen reflexes and good listening skills. A poem verse is read and a player must remove the card baring that verse from the field before their opponent. It is a simple yet complex game that requires a lot of skill to play well. The films go a long way to present the game in its simple serene state, only to turn it on its head with complex challenging battles bringing the story to a fever pitch
The second film in particular features some jaw dropping moments with Shinobu rivaling Chihaya. I cannot express enough how much Mayu Matsuoka steals the show as Shinobu, the moment she is introduced the film is hers and she brings a sense of excitement to the film that is another level compared to everything that precedes it.
Both films are gorgeously shot and the costuming is truly on point with some beautiful traditional clothing on show here. The soundtrack is equally impressive with an entire emotional spectrum conveyed through the score.
Chihayfuru Part 1 and 2 are both fantastic films that faithfully adapt the source material with a genuine sense of affection for it. The game of karuta is beautifully captured and Mayu Matsuoka delivers a career highlight performance as Shinobu. It is recommended to watch both films together for full enjoyment, however the first film can be watched on its own as it stands alone nicely. The second film however relies deeply on the viewer having seen the first film, it is a sequel in all the right ways and takes things to another level compared to the first film. Chihayafuru is a magical kind of series and it has made for 2 magical kind of films.