Source: 映画『3月のライオン』 on Twitter

And it’s like the anime… only even more depressing.

The March comes in like a lion (Sangatsu no Lion) anime, while filled with a good amount of drama, is also chock-full of heartwarming, comedic moments. The first of the two live-action films adapting Chica Umino’s manga of the same name, however, is a two-and-a-half-hour emotional roller coaster ride that cannot be watched without a box of tissues.

The story of March comes in like a lion revolves around Rei Kiriyama (played by Ryūnosuke Kamiki), a young man who was orphaned as a child after his mother, father, and younger sister all died in a tragic accident. He was taken in by a pro shogi player, and learned from his adoptive father how to play shogi.

Although it turned out that Rei was a shogi genius, he was forced to leave the house due to emotional tension between himself and his adoptive father’s children. Isolated, Rei’s life is changed for the better when he meets three sisters—Akari (Kana Kurashima), Hinata (Kayo Kiyohara), and Momo Kawamoto (Chise Niitsu)—who welcome him into their home like a member of their own family.

Source: 映画『3月のライオン』 on Twitter

While the sisters do appear in this film, their amount of screentime is noticeably short. The focus in the first of the two live-action films—the first properly titled Tatakai no Zenpen (lit. The Fighting First Half)—is, without a doubt, focused on Rei’s struggles rather than his redemption. And wow, is it hard to watch.

The film is by no means bad. In fact, it’s the opposite—it’s an extremely realistic depiction of the character’s pain that connects him to the viewer so strongly that it’s suffocating to watch. If the film didn’t have the one or two scenes where the Kawamoto sisters show up, I think I would have been reduced to a puddle of tears by the end.

Rei’s biggest struggle in the film is that he’s too skilled at shogi. That doesn’t sound like a problem, right? But Rei is an incredibly nice person with a giant conscience—he blames himself for everything bad that happens around him because of his shogi victories. In his childhood, his skill at shogi broke his adopted family apart due to the adopted father expecting less from the other children in the household. In his adolescence, his victory at a shogi match against a man (who was estranged from his daughter due to his habit of drunken violence) made the man give up on making up with his daughter altogether.

Event after event, we see Rei win and never be happy about it, but Rei—being a silent boy—never complains. The moment when he finally bursts, alone in the city surrounded by the maddening lights and sounds of the festivities of the holidays, is an emotionally striking scene that is hard to bear watching.

Source: 映画『3月のライオン』 on Twitter

And the moment you think Rei can break free from this cycle of guilt, his adoptive sister Kyoko (Kasumi Arimura)—who is something of the sympathetic villain in this film—returns to Rei’s side to haunt him. You really want to hate Kyoko: From their young days, she has emotionally (and even physically) abused Rei due to her father doting on him more as a shogi prodigy. However, she is depicted in such a way that you can’t fully blame her for her actions. After years of being trained rigorously by her father to become a pro shogi player, he tells her to give up everything she’s worked for all her life because well, Rei is just better. Rei’s not at fault, per say; it’s definitely her father who is the cruel one. But it is completely understandable why she would have malice toward her younger adoptive brother.

March comes in like a lion Is More about People Than Shogi

It also makes more sense as to why she is rebelling against her family by dating a married man and relying on him for emotional and financial support. Her father told her that there were other paths besides shogi, but for Kyoko, who had dedicated her entire life to shogi and nothing else, there just is nothing else. Kyoko’s interference in Rei’s life is annoying—infuriating really—but through a few interactions with Rei throughout the story, you can see that she does care about him; she is just as lonely and lost as he is.

Source: 映画『3月のライオン』 on Twitter

The film uses dialogue and music sparingly, which increases the effect of the other sounds throughout the story—especially the sound of shogi tiles being placed on the board. In fact, in the first fifteen minutes of the movie, the only word of dialogue spoken by our protagonist is “yes”—which he only says twice. When music is used, it is used rarely and only in the proper moments—i.e., scenes of tension like the aforementioned holiday scene. Instead of the characters explaining everything, important story points are conveyed through visual cues. The lighting is also used skillfully, with bright colors being reserved for scenes with Rei and the Kawamoto sisters. The film uses a variety of shooting locations, including the real-life Shogi Kaikan in Sendagaya.

The actors play their roles very well, almost to a surprising amount. While it was initially difficult to judge Ryūnosuke Kamiki’s ability to play protagonist Rei due to the character’s silent nature, through scenes like his holiday outburst and more flustered moments with the Kawamoto sisters, it’s obvious that he put effort into his performance. His childhood counterpart is also stellar—with the scene in which young Rei cries with tears and saliva dribbling down his face being one of the strongest in the film.

Source: 映画『3月のライオン』 on Twitter

Akari and Momo Kawamoto are played splendidly by actresses Kana Kurashima and Chise Niitsu, and make the characters—dare I even say—even more realistic and relatable than the anime version. Rei’s rival Nikaidō (seen above)—played by Shōta Sometani—is a bit over-the-top, but portrays the character very loyally to the source material.

The only weak link in this film in terms of acting is the middle Kawamoto sister Hinata, played by Kayo Kiyohara. While she absolutely looks the part, her acting is fairly flat, and tends to break up an otherwise good scene.

It appears as if the second and final film of March comes in like a lion will be just as emotionally-wrenching, but for the people around Rei as well, with more of a focus being put on the Kawamoto sisters and their complicated family situation. I’ll have to make sure not to put on any eye makeup before going to the theater again when it comes out.

The first March comes in like a lion live-action film premiered in Japan on March 18. The sequel, Ai no Kohen (lit. The Second Half of Love) will open in Japanese theaters on April 22. There is no word of an English release yet.

Anime Basics: March comes in like a lion

The anime version of March comes in like a lion is available to watch on Daisuki and Crunchyroll now. You can read up on the details about the show on our Anime Basics page for the series.

Comments (1)
  1. […] [12] He was taken in by a pro shogi player, and learned from his adoptive father how to play shogi. [14] Therefore, the burden of ending the repetition fell on the player that started the repetitions. […]

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