The first two Chihayafuru live-action films were made and released side by side, but this is a "two years later" sequel. It's also not a direct continuation. We've skipped over our heroes' entire second year of high school, so they're now starting their final year.
I enjoyed it, but it's even less interested than before in digging into the karuta matches.
The film's happy to talk about karuta when a match isn't happening, mind you. We get a shallow look at Suou's super-hearing and an even shallower look at Harada-sensei's idea that there's no such thing as luck of the draw. (The film makes it sound like magic.) The film talks through the growth in Taichi's karuta, although I'd observe that that's different from actually seeing it. Once a match starts, though, the film ditches the idea of karuta as a mind game. It's just speed. People grab cards. Even now, after three films, we've been given no insight into what makes Chihaya's play style different from the Queen's, or from Taichi's, or Arata's. This is so glaring that someone at the finale can say with a straight face that Chihaya's karuta is just like the Queen's. I was gaping in disbelief. That's such a dumb movie thing to say. It sounds cool, but no no no no no.
That aside, though, the film's very good. It's funny, entertaining and makes good decisions.
The plot's borrowing from various different periods of the manga, plus some original material that I bet will end up being close to what happens later anyway. Taichi and Suou, in some form? Yeah, that's clearly going to happen. Arata starting a school club and going up against Mizusawa in their third year? Absolutely inevitable. We start with a super-abbreviated version of the King/Queen matches from the end of Season 3, then jump back into Season 2. It's the start of a new school year and the gang are recruiting more karuta players. They find Sumire (as magnificently shallow as ever) and a pseudo-Tsukuba. That's Tsukuba in name only. They've discarded absolutely everything about the original character, including the fact that he's not actually that good (despite his high opinion of himself) and we don't even meet his three brothers!
The film's Suou is not Suou. They've got a lot right (his dreadful personality issues, his mannerisms, his sweet tooth, his super-hearing), but his plot role is to be the Benevolent Mentor Who Takes Taichi Under His Wing, which is... no. The manga/anime Suou is a sadist who likes breaking people. (This film's Suou also prefers opponents who aren't passionate, which is the exact opposite of how the manga/anime Suou approaches his matches.)
Arata's school team is absurdly strong. It's ridiculous, but also mandatory because this is a movie. (A lot of things become inevitable in movies if you think about what the story's dramatic shape is going to be like. You can stake your life on who the main head-to-heads will have to be in the third-act school tournament, for instance, which in turn dictates how certain earlier subplots are going to play out.)
All that said, though, it feels right. Everyone's excellent in their roles, especially Suzu Hirose as Chihaya. It's funny. It's charming. It can be cool. I know why it made the decision it does at the end. It's a thoroughly enjoyable film. It's changing things, yes, but that was inevitable and we all know that films do that anyway. I'm happy to have seen it and I'd even recommend it to others...
...but it's not my Chihayafuru. It loves these characters, but it's only pretending to be interested in karuta.