Anime as a storytelling medium is gaining more and more respect in the last few years, with Makoto Shinkai’s masterpiece Your Name being a huge turning point. Having seen the reception that Your Name and A Silent Voice received here in the UK after their nationwide theatrical releases, I was really excited when I heard that MAPPA Studios’ In This Corner of the World (Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni) was the next in line to get shown in cinemas across the UK. However, to my disappointment none of the cinema chains local to me decided it was worth their time to show this film, and thus I was ready to forget about it until home releases came around.
However, a small organisation local to me took matters into their own hands, deciding that In This Corner of the World was worth their time. Hull Independent Cinema is a charity organisation run by a small team of volunteers who work to bring the world’s greatest underground or independent films to the big screens within the city of Hull, many of which are foreign-language films which the mainstream media overlook. Thanks to their hard work, I managed to catch the only screening of In This Corner of the World local to me, and man am I glad that I could!
In This Corner of the World is a historical drama set throughout a war-torn Hiroshima during the tragic events that transpired during World War 2. Whilst it is a fictional story, the setting, environments and events are accurate and based on facts and first-hand accounts as researched by the staff. It follows the story of Suzu, a young woman with a passion for painting and drawing born and raised in the small seaside town of Eba, Hiroshima. In 1944, Suzu marries Shuusaku, a young man who works as a clerk for a naval base in the nearby port town of Kure, and moves to live with his family in a small farmhouse. Life isn’t easy for Suzu and Shuusaku, as the constant threat of the Pacific War looms over their daily lives. As the war progresses, the allocated ration portions get smaller and smaller, making life even tougher for the rag-tag family. Still, they persevere, finding joy and courage in the little things in life, as Suzu continues to live life to the fullest.
This all sounds lovely and sweet, and for the most part, In This Corner of the World maintains a cute, cosy and familial vibe. However, as a viewer watching this film 70 years after WW2, there is an unending and unrelenting despair looming over the tone, as we all know just how the story will end, even if we don’t know quite how Suzu and her family will be affected. Needless to say, the film most definitely addresses the atomic bombings and we really do learn what living in Hiroshima throughout these trying times was like.
Clocking in at just over two hours, it’s a fairly standard length movie, though the nature of the character building, the events and the stories being told means that it’s a slow one – this pace is most definitely necessary, however, as this time is spent incredibly well on building a connection with everybody involved. It invokes a real sense of care and appreciation for everything Suzu does for her family despite the taxing times, making it all the more troubling to know exactly what happens to Hiroshima later. The writing plays on this fear well, as air raids sirens and bombing threats are constant worries, as you never quite know which will be “the one”. David Ehrlich of IndieWire says it best: “…it can be hard not to feel as though we’re watching lobsters stew in a slowly boiling pot“. This uneasiness, however, is key to the storytelling and aids us as viewers in wishing nothing but the best for Suzu and her new family.
This isn’t to say that the pace is perfect, however. Whilst I wasn’t at all bored with the film (far from it, in fact!), I definitely found myself getting a little impatient with the writing toward the latter half. The slow pace worked amazingly in building the familial relationships (especially that between Suzu, her new sister-in-law Keiko and Keiko’s child Harumi), but alas served to drag out scenes of Suzu’s housewife duties and Kure’s air raid scares. To this point, the atomic bomb came at just the right time, serving to break up the monotony of countryside family life with a gut-wrenching blast – at this point, the film’s visual beauty really comes around.
The art direction for In This Corner of the World is beautiful, with a soft watercolour style giving the whole film a gentle, loving tone in keeping with the daily lives of the Houjou family. The art style also directly references Suzu’s artistic hobbies, most notably in bombing scenes – explosions and gunfire are portrayed as beautiful paint splats and ink drops in the sky, clearly acting as blemishes on these beautiful hand-crafted scenes. Additionally, after the bombing, the film has a curious art-style shift, from these soft watercolours to hard-edged monochromatic sketches, white on solid black backgrounds, evoking the same sense of dread and mystery that I’m sure residents would have had way back in 1945.
Suzu’s character is portrayed as a daydreamer, so much so that the film opens with a voiceover from Suzu: “They’ve always called me a daydreamer…”. Whilst this trait acts positively for Suzu and her family and companions throughout the film, it doesn’t quite come across so friendly for us as viewers – there are multiple times where scenes and events play out, only to later be shown that they were Suzu daydreaming. This not only acts as confusing as a viewer, but actively can harm one’s enjoyment of the film. One in particular occurs after Suzu visits her family home in Eba for the first time after marrying Shuusaku and moving in with him – she awakens in her family’s home and tells them all about how she had a daydream in which she married a young man from Kure. This scene in particular interferes greatly with the telling and clarity of the story, and whilst I found myself confused, I quickly pushed this to the side and continued watching like it didn’t happen – not something one wants to do when watching a film like this!
Despite the issues of pace and story clarity, In This Corner of the World comes together to tell a deeply emotional, heart-wrenching, and moving story about everyday life in Hiroshima during the tragic event faced by the citizens during World War 2, and one that I would say can confidently bring together people from all walks of life with all tastes. It can bridge generational gaps with its accurate and well-researched portrayal of war-time life, and will act as an even safer entry into Japanese anime movies than something like Your Name or A Silent Voice, both of which still have a certain anime feel to them. It’s tragic without being distressing, uplifting without being unrealistic, and brings together the best of all aspects of film into one solidly enjoyable two hour package for all to enjoy!
In This Corner of the World is out now in UK theatres, and launches in the U.S. August 11 2017!