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Movie Review: Chihayafuru Kami no Ku

Japanese Title: ちはやふる 上の句
Alternative Title: Chihayafuru Part 1
Release Date: March 19, 2016
Director: Norihiro Koizumi

Chihaya is a student in Mizusawa who aims to spread the love of karuta to many people. She dreams of forming a powerful team that will make their school a prestigious school of karuta. More than that, it is a promise. She and her childhood friends, Arata and Taichi, had vowed to continue playing in the hope that the game would someday bring them back together again.


What is karuta? How is it played?

Karuta is a card game introduced by the Portuguese traders to Japan in the mid-16th century. There are two sets of cards: The reading cards that contain complete poems are called yomifuda and the playing cards that contain the final lines of the poem are called torifuda. When the reader reads the poems aloud, the players should find the torifuda that matches the final phrase of the poem being read. The aim of the game is to collect as many cards as you can.

Arata: What is his importance as a character?
Arata Wataya is the grandson of a karuta master. When he was younger, his dream was to become the best karuta player in the world. As of the present time in the story, he is the one of the best karuta players. He is a childhood friend of both Chihaya and Taichi, but was separated from them because his family moved away. The desire to meet him again is one of Chihaya’s driving motivations throughout the story. Although his role is not significant in this movie, he has a more prominent role in the other films of this franchise.

Road to Victory

Chihaya manages to find 4 more members to complete her team of 5: Kanade Oe, an enthusiast of Japanese culture who likes everything that is traditional; Yusei Nishida, a competitive boy who loves pork dumplings; Tsutomu Komano, an antisocial individual who enjoys studying; and her longtime friend, Taichi Mashima.

Although she was not chosen as the president, she worked like she was the leader of the club. The determination and effective leadership that Chihaya showed gained her a team that is worthy of going against their strongest rivals. They participated in the Shiranami Society training camp to gain more experience. They entered a lot of matches to build up their stamina and trained both mentally and physically to heighten the level of their endurance.

Of course, each member of the team had their own contributions. Tsutomu made a valuable karuta application to highlight the strength and weakness of each player. Kanade had already memorized all the poems by heart while Tsutomo and Taichi already had experience in competitive karuta. Though Kanade and Tsutomu were still rookies, the group never showed any negativity towards their lack of experience. When Tsutomu was losing his self-confidence because he was not winning any matches, the team did not lose their trust in him. Instead, when needed, they gave each other words of support and encouragement. The connection between each of them feels genuine—which leads me to think that the actors probably have a good relationship with each other in real life.

With all that said, is everything they have at hand enough for them to win in the karuta tournament? Will the power of their friendship be a valuable edge in winning the top prize?

I guess you will have to watch to find out!

The Verdict

Suzu Hirose, the actress who plays Chihaya, is a beautiful young actress with a voice that is both strong and calming to hear. She can play powerful female roles—which is why she could act the role of Chihaya effectively.

The movie teaches its viewers the value of cooperation, companionship and the merits of good leadership. It also shows an optimistic view on life-- a rarity in an age where dramatic and sad movies are popular. Is this a good movie to watch? As a person who rarely likes high school romance movies, I enjoyed watching it. Maybe you will too.

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