Staying true to the manga

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A SCENE from the film Chihayafuru Part 3

By Zsarlene B. Chua Reporter

CHIHAYAFURU PART 3 is a sports film about a competitive Japanese card game called karuta where players have to memorize 1,000 classic Japanese poems — it’s a game completely unfamiliar to Filipinos but their enthusiastic reactions to the film surprised even the film’s director, Norihiro Koizumi.

“It was surprising really. I like how they react to the movie: they laugh, they cry, and they speak. Their reactions are totally different from Japanese people,” Mr. Koizumi told Manila media during an interview on July 6 at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel.

He explained that unlike Filipinos who were more emotional when watching the film, the Japanese are more staid and quiet.

“I didn’t know [Filipinos] knew about the movie,” he said before adding that in all fairness, not a lot of Japanese play or know much about karuta.

The final installment of Chihayafuru trilogy, based on the manga by Yuki Suetsugu, opened the annual Eiga Sai Japanese Film Festival this July and is currently part of the film festival’s slate as it tours around the country until August.

The manga was first released in 2007 and currently has more than 30 volumes. It is credited as having increased interest in the traditional card game.

The film is set two years after the events of the second film, Chihayafuru Part 2 (2016) and follows the life of the titular character, Chihaya Ayase (played by Suzu Hirose) and her team as they traverse the final year of high school and get into the national tournament of the card game.

While the first two films — both released in 2016 — follow the plot of the ongoing manga, the third film afforded Mr. Koizumi a free hand to end the story of Chihaya and her friends by focusing on their coming-of-age stories instead of just competitive karuta.

“I didn’t do the story completely the same [as it is in the manga],” he said.

“When I was thinking about part three, and how the story’s going to be, I thought about the audience expecting [it to continue where it left off in part two] and I was writing the plot but I decided in the moment to throw it away because when I thought what Chihayafuru was all about, it’s not just about Chihaya competing and overcoming [opponents]. I thought it was more about what they earn and what they learn from karuta,” Mr. Koizumi explained before saying that the film series originally was planned to only have two films but due to the positive responses of the audience, a third film was commissioned.

It was then that he decided to focus the story on one of the secondary characters, Taichi Mashima (played by Shuhei Nomura) and how he “overcomes his destiny.”

Taichi has accompanied Chihaya as her teammate and childhood friend in her quest to reunite with her childhood sweetheart Arata Wataya (played by Mackenyu) in the same karuta arena.

His romantic feelings for Chihaya, which result in a rivaly with Arata, and his mediocre karuta skills (mediocre compared to Chihaya and Arata) are his major conflicts — making him one of the more interesting characters in both manga and film. This is what Mr. Koizumi focused on with the third film.

Chihayafuru is all about overcoming what you have and don’t have,” he said.

Mr. Koizumi considers this film as his most favorite to date.

“I think I have the most beautiful ending I could do with Chihayafuru,” he said.

While he considers the film adaptations and manga as two separate works, Mr. Koizumi noted that he respected and created his Chihayafuru in the same spirit as Ms. Suetsugu’s work.

“If you look at the story in a broader way, [the movie and the manga] are the same [though] some details are different. I think that’s what I did with Chihayafuru that a lot of other films adapting manga didn’t do,” he said.

In 2017, Rupert Sanders adapted into film the 1989 cult-favorite manga Ghost in the Shell by Masamune Shirow, casting Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi, a crime-fighting augmented cybernetic human of Japanese descent.

Though the film gave Johansson’s character an alternate identity as Major Mira Killian, her casting was greatly criticized by fans of the original series who said it was whitewashing. While the producers, Mr. Sanders, and Ms. Johansson explained that the futuristic world where the film in set in is multicultural, the backlash was enough to see the film tank in the box office, grossing just $169 million worldwide against a production budget of $110 million.

For Mr. Koizumi, who has also adapted Kotomi Aoki’s manga Kanojo wa Uso o Aishisugeteru into The Liar and His Lover (2013), the main point of adapting a source material is staying true to the original intention of the author.

“It was the poems, I think that’s the critical point,” he said of Chihayafuru. “It was a card game, but it wasn’t just that — it has meanings in the cards and it has Japanese history — that’s what makes it different from other sports movies,” he said of his decision to adapt the manga.

“I thought the poems were like music,” he added.