In This Corner Of The World (Cert PG)
1 Disc DVD/Blu-ray (Distributor: Animatsu Entertainment/Manga Entertainment) Running time: 124 minutes approx.
Following the success of the 1950’s set film Mai Mai Miracle, director Sunao Katabuchi casts his nostalgic net a little further back to the turbulent years surrounding World War II. This subject has been covered quite a lot in anime, but In This Corner Of The World seeks to provide a different perspective to its predecessors.
The story begins in the late 1930’s in a small seaside town called Eba in Hiroshima, where we meet Suzu Urano, a young girl with a gift for drawing, working in the family business of cultivating seaweed in between her schooling. In 1944 aged 18, Suzu is proposed to by Shusaku Hojo, a young man from the naval port city of Kure, apparently smitten after meeting Suzu briefly in 1933.
Suzu agrees to the marriage and moves to Kure with her new husband and his family, essentially becoming a housewife, supporting her ailing mother-in-law. Shortly after Shusaku is drafted into the navy, his new base being many miles away, leaving Suzu to integrate into her new family home alone which she does. A year later, the US air raids begin, throwing the lives of everyone into chaos.
War always begets tragedy and Katabuchi has no intention of avoiding this in detailing the vicissitudes Suzu and her fellow compatriots endure, but unlike other wartime set anime film’s such as Grave Of The Fireflies, the bleak drama is supplanted by a stirring tribute to the indomitable spirit of the Japanese citizens in the face of such adversity.
There is no real political angle here leaving the message of the human cost of war to resonate on its own merits. Focusing on the grass roots war experience plays a huge part in the story remaining grounded and less reliant on sensationalism whilst providing a unique history lesson of how the Japanese survived during this period.
Suzu’s early life is one of relative happiness despite the impecunious effects of the flagging seaweed business that she can’t even afford a new pencil. The presence of war rarely ebbs but Hiroshima has been lucky in terms of suffering. Kure is a completely different world for Suzu, not in the least that her uxorial duties give her no time to draw, making her almost serving as a maid for her extended family.
However, through hard work and determination, Suzu finds her place and earns the love and respect of her in-laws whilst learning new skills, such as turning kimonos into manageable evacuation trouser suits and how to make rations feed a whole family. Her marriage is hardly loveless but not exactly Romeo and Juliet either, exacerbated by Shusaku’s prolonged absence whilst doing his duty.
After the first major air raid hits and the US army moves in, we see the Kure locals rally round in scenes reminiscent of London during the Blitz, wives and mothers, queuing up for paltry by welcome nourishing handouts dressed in unflattering makeshift attire yet not in the least perturbed by the chaos around them, simply rolling up their sleeves and getting on with life.
It is this evocation of the period which Katabuchi perpetuated so well in Mai Mai Miracle that helps immerse the audience into the experiences of the earnest civilians through thick and thin. The usual stereotypes of the cranky seniors and superficial snobs are eschewed in favour of real down to earth people with civic-minded attitudes that we can relate to, thus we sympathise with then as the hardships increase.
Similarly, Katabuchi plays a smart hand by keeping the tragic events off camera to make their impact more heartfelt and devastating, whereas other directors would have driven the point home with graphic depictions of death and destruction. That is not to say we don’t have some active moments during the bomb raids, but the depiction of the gentle quotidian life enhances the drama of the eventual suffering.
This is also a tale about relationships and how fleeting they can be. In Eba, Suzu had a close relationship with her younger sister, Sumi, for whom she would draw stories to amuse her, and the pair would venture across the river to their grandmother’s house in the summer. In Kure, Suzu bonds with Harumi, the young daughter of Shusaku’s elder sister Keiko, a proud woman who lost her business when her husband died.
Perhaps the most poignant moment of the whole film comes later in the second half when the air raids begin and Suzu wants to return to Hiroshima to check on her family. She is persuaded to stay another week by her in-laws when local radio connection with Hiroshima suddenly ceases. In the distance, lightning flashes in broad daylight followed by a thick cloud can be seen from Kure. We know what has happened by they don’t – there is no need for explanation the scenario says it all.
Despite being a story based on suffering and tragedy, the tone is pervasively light and hopeful, with the characters never once resigned to any fate, they simply keep their heads down and carry on as normal. There are some gentle laughs and the cheerfulness of the central relationships is infectious, but perhaps most importantly of all the drama isn’t overplayed leaving its impact to sink in rather than be bludgeon with it.
MAPPA handled the production, capturing the essence of the period via watercolour style artwork for that oneiric sense of nostalgia, with only the bare minimum CGI presence during the bomb dropping scenes. The animation harks back to the cell drawn era of added authenticity but Katabuchi lets loose on occasion by using Suzu’s pencil sketches to illustrate or highlight certain developments.
It seems unlikely that a film about war can possess an uplifting and affecting spirit in the face of depicting undisputed tragedies but In This Corner Of The World can boast exactly that. The boldness in approaching this subject from this different perspective pays off and the personable charm this paean to human resilience permeates is undeniable.
English Language 5.1
Japanese Language 5.1
Limited Edition Blu-ray Collector’s Edition
14mm Blu-ray Case
Rigid Collectors Box
Bonus 12-page Booklet
DVD With Over 1 Hour Of Behind The Scenes Extras
Rating – ****
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