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Land of the Karuta

Japanese filmmaker Nori Koizumi on his popular film trilogy based on a card game, and cinema back home

Written by Surbhi Gupta | Published: October 12, 2018 12:21:02 am
Land of the Karuta Japanese filmmaker Nori Koizumi

Japanese filmmaker Nori Koizumi this year concluded his film trilogy, a “sports romantic teen drama” — Chihayafuru — which had taken the country by storm. What surprises about the series is that the sport at the centre of it is a card game — Karuta. Revolving around the game are the lives of three elementary school students who want to win big and become Karuta champions in Japan. The movie that became a rage in the country, encouraged the sport and gave a boost to competitive Karuta was recently screened in Delhi as part of Japan Film Festival. In its second edition, the festival was organised by The Japan Foundation in collaboration with PVR Cinemas.

Koizumi, who was in Delhi to participate in the festival, says such initiatives are necessary so that people in India can explore Japanese cinema beyond the works of Akira Kurosawa. “Japanese films are improving a lot, and we’re making a variety of films. People here just don’t have a chance to see it. Since we’re not famous, doesn’t mean we are creating bad films, we’re making pretty good films. Such a cultural exchange is welcome,” he says.

How did he get into filmmaking? “I don’t know, to be honest, I don’t know,” he says. He then remembers getting introduced to the form in school, at the age of 15. “I was making movies in school but wasn’t a movie buff as a child. It wasn’t until I was in university that I decided to pursue this as a career,” he says, adding that he started watching cinema closely once he became a filmmaker. “When I started making films, I started looking at them differently, how they are being made or shot,” says the 38-year-old, who has directed a number of popular films back home. His first, Midnight Sun, was remade this year in Hollywood. “It’s about a girl who has a rare medical condition due to which she cannot go into direct sunlight. She only goes out at night, playing the guitar at a bus stop. Soon she meets a boy who likes to surf and is mostly out during the day,” he narrates. He likes to explore such conflicts in his movies, which are also known for their sensitive and emotional portrayal.

Land of the Karuta A still from Chihayafuru

On the Chihayafuru trilogy, he says, “Karuta makes use of 200 cards divided into two sets. It has over hundred traditional Japanese poems from thousand years ago. Hence, the sport is also literature and has history. A single card has meaning to it, they were written a 1,000 years ago but we can connect with them in 2018. I thought it was dramatic and I can make it entertaining,” he says. “Karuta is popular, but not many knew about competitive Karuta; I didn’t know. The movie has encouraged people to play the sport and those who organise the tournaments were in panic as they couldn’t handle it. Parents tell me that their children have joined Karuta club in school,” he adds.

The movie is based on manga comic of the same name, written by Yuki Suetsugu. But it’s not a complete adaptation. “I don’t approach the story in episodes but grab it in essence,” says the filmmaker, who wants to dabble in the genre of science fiction.

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