March Comes in Like a Lion (3月のライオン, Keishi Ohtomo, 2017)

march comes in like a lion posterShogi seems to have entered the spotlight of late. Not only is there a new teenage challenger hitting the headlines in Japan, but 2017 has even seen two tentpole Japanese pictures dedicated to the cerebral sport. Following the real life biopic Satoshi: A Move for Tomorrow, March Comes in Like a Lion (3月のライオン, Sangatsu no Lion) adapts the popular manga by Chica Umino in which an orphaned boy attempts to block out his emotional pain through the taxing strategising becoming a top player entails. Shogi, however, turns out to be a dangerous addiction, ruining lives and hearts left, right and centre but, then again, it’s not so much “shogi” which causes problems but the emotional volatility its intense rigidity is often masking.

Rei Kiriyama (Ryunosuke Kamiki) lost his family at a young age when both parents and his little sister were tragically killed in a car accident. Taken in by a family friend, Rei takes up shogi (a game also apparently beloved by his late father) in the hope of being accepted in his new home. A few year’s later, Rei’s plan has worked too well. Better than either of his foster-siblings, Kyoko (Kasumi Arimura) and Ayumu, Rei has become his foster-father’s favourite child causing resentment and disconnection in the family home. Believing himself to be a disruptive influence among those he loves (even if he suspects they still do not love him), Rei removes himself by deciding to live independently, shunning all personal relationships and dedicating his life to the art of shogi.

Everything changes when Rei is taken for a night out by some senior colleagues and is encouraged to drink alcohol for the first time despite being underage. A kindly young woman who lives nearby finds Rei collapsed in the street and takes him home to sleep things off. The oldest of three sisters, Akari (Kana Kurashina) has a habit of picking up strays and determines to welcome the lonely high schooler into her happy home. Suddenly experiencing a positive familial environment, Rei’s views on interpersonal connection begin to shift but people are not like shogi and you can’t you can’t expect them to just fall into place like a well played tile. 

Like Satoshi, the real life subject of which is also echoed in March through the performance of an unrecognisable Shota Sometani who piles on the pounds to play the sickly yet intense shogi enthusiast and Rei supporter Harunobu Nikaido, March dares to suggest that shogi is not an altogether healthy obsession. Koda (Etsushi Toyokawa), Rei’s foster-father, is a shogi master who trained both his children to follow in his footsteps only to pull the rug from under them by ordering the pair to give up the game because they’ll never be as good as Rei. Thinking only of shogi, he thinks nothing of the effect this complete rejection will have on his family, seeming surprised when neither of his children want much more to do with him and have been unable to move forward with their own lives because of the crushing blow to their self confidence and emotional well being that he has dealt them.

Kyoko, Rei’s big sister figure, remains resentful and hurt, embarking on an unwise affair with a married shogi master (Hideaki Ito) who is also emotionally closed off to her because he too is using shogi as a kind of drug to numb the pain of having a wife in a longterm coma. Believing himself to be a disruptive influence who brings ruin to everything he touches, Rei has decided that shogi is his safe place in which he can do no harm to others whilst protecting himself through intense forethought. He is, however, very affected by the results of his victories and failures, feeling guilty about the negative effects of defeat on losing challengers whilst knowing that loss is a part of the game.

Drawing closer to the three Kawamoto sisters, Rei rediscovers the joy of connection but he’s slow to follow that thread to its natural conclusion. His shogi game struggles to progress precisely because of his rigid tunnel vision. Time and again he either fails to see or misreads his opponents, only belatedly coming to realise that strategy and psychology are inextricably linked. Yet in his quest to become more open, he eventually overplays his hand in failing to realise that his viewpoint is essentially self-centred – he learned shogi to fit in with the Kodas, now he’s learning warmth to be a Kawamoto but applying the rules of shogi to interpersonal relationships provokes only more hurt and shame sending Rei right back into the self imposed black hole he’d created for himself immersed in the superficial safety of the shogi world.

As Koda explains to Kyoko (somewhat insensitively) it’s not shogi which ruins lives, but the lack of confidence in oneself that it often exposes. Rei’s problem is less one of intellectual self belief than a continuing refusal to deal with the emotional trauma of losing his birth family followed by the lingering suspicion that he is a toxic presence to everyone he loves. Only in his final battle does the realisation that his relationships with his new found friends are a strength and not a weakness finally allow him to move forward, both personally and in terms of his game. Rei may have come in like a lion, all superficial roar and bluster, but he’s going out like a lamb – softer and happier but also stronger and more secure. Only now is he ready to face his greatest rival, with his various families waiting in his corner silently cheering him on as finally learns to accept that even in shogi one is never truly alone.


Released in two parts – 3月のライオン 前編 (Sangatsu no Lion Zenpen, March Comes in Like a Lion) / 3月のライオン 後編 (Sangatsu no Lion Kouhen, March Goes Out Like a Lamb).

Original trailer (no subtitles)

Rurouni Kenshin 3: The Legend Ends (UK Anime Network Review)

RK3_01jpgThe Legend Ends (for now?) but it certainly goes out in style! Review of the final part of this fantastically awesome trilogy up on UK Anime Network. I really did love these even if part 3 is the weakest part (can I have a Saito spin-off series, please?!).


To state the obvious, this review contains a fair few spoilers if you’ve yet to see Rurouni Kenshin 2: Kyoto Inferno so please bear that in mind before reading on.

All things must end and the legend of Rurouni Kenshin is coming to a close, for this chapter at least. Continuing on directly from the dramatic cliff hanger ending of Rurouni Kenshin 2: Kyoto Inferno we’re once again right in the middle of the battle between two former government assassins – the fearless killer Battosai, now rehabilitated and known as Kenshin Himura, and the crazed villain Shishio who narrowly survived being burned on a funeral pyre by the very government who once employed him. Shishio is still hell bent on bringing down the nascent Meiji government, preferably with as much damage as possible and the only one who can stop him is Kenshin – with a little help from his friends, of course!

At the end of the last film, Kenshin found himself washed up on a beach and carried off by a mysterious figure (played by big name actor Masaharu Fukuyama – Like Father Like Son and star of the 2010 Taiga drama Ryomaden also directed by Ohtomo, in a secret cameo). In not quite the biggest coincidence of the film, this figure just happens to be Kenshin’s mentor Seijuro! Which is handy because Kenshin really needs to learn the ultimate swordsmanship technique before he’ll be able to take on Shishio and win. That’s not to mention facing off against Aoshi who just wants to kill Battosai so he can be the number one badass and become today’s prettiest face on all the wanted posters around town. Kenshin certainly has a lot on his plate, but the future of the new Japan rests on his reverse bladed sword alone.

Kyoto Inferno and The Legend Ends were filmed back to back and released with only a short interval between them in Japan – you could argue it’s more one sequel in two parts than two separate films. Picking up right where Kyoto Inferno left off, The Legend Ends maintains the first film’s high production values and impressive action sequences though, it has to be said, with a lengthy lull in the earlier part of the film. Were the two films watched back to back, this “cooling off” period may feel a little more necessary to provide a bit of breathing space between the frenetic ending stretch of Kyoto Inferno and the lengthy battles towards the end of The Legend Ends but when the second film is watched in isolation it can’t help but feel a little slow to get going. Nevertheless, when the battles come, they come thick and fast and display some of the best swordplay sequences of any recent film. Often breathtaking in the fluidity with which it captures these beautifully choreographed sequences, The Legend Ends only improves on the promise of the first two films when it comes to the action stakes.

Unfortunately, this does lead to other aspects of the story being sidelined somewhat. This is really the Kenshin vs Shishio show – not a bad thing in itself but it does mean there’s less time for everyone else. Even big stars like Yu Aoi (Megumi) wind up with one scene only while Emi Takei’s Kaoru is relegated to looking pained in the background. Fan favourite character Sonsosuke gets the most airtime providing his trademark comic relief, and Saito still gets to smoke and look cool with his Drunken Angel era Mifune-like floppy hair to bring his characteristic powerful indifference to every single scene he’s in. Still, fans of the manga in particular may feel disappointed as their favourite scenes and characters get short shrift – especially given the speed at which some of the much feted Ten Swords are met and dispatched in the final battle.

It may be way too long, but The Legend Ends is a fitting finale to this exciting saga. Packing in a number of fantastically choreographed action sequences the film also makes sure to bring Kenshin’s internal story to a satisfying climax (though leaving room for a return to his world should the opportunity arise). Engaging performances, interesting direction and high production values all ensure this trilogy of Rurouni Kenshin live action films has been one of the most successful Japanese mainstream efforts of recent times. Another sterling effort from this expert team, The Legend Ends may not be the strongest entry in the series, but remains a fantastically enjoyable treat!


Out in (very) selected cinemas from today, 17th April 2015

Here’s where it’s on (good luck!):

  • Cineworld Bolton
  • Cineworld Cardiff
  • Cineworld Crawley
  • Cineworld Enfield
  • Cineworld Glasgow Renfrew St.
  • Cineworld Sheffield
  • Cineworld Stevenage
  • Cineworld West India Quay