It's 1935 and Suzu (voiced by Non) is a young girl who lives in Eba, a town in Hiroshima. She is an exceptional artist with a vibrant imagination and an adventurous approach to life. Her innocence and pleasant childhood existence is rocked when, as a teenager, she receives an out-of-the-blue marriage proposal from a stranger (voiced by Yoshimasa Hosoya). Life with his family in Kure forces Suzu into a daily routine of cleaning, mending and cooking - all while longing for her family back in Eba.
‘In This Corner of the World’ chugs through the months and years, and provides a history of wartime from the perspective of an ordinary family and village. As the calendar draws closer to the fateful date of the 6th of August 1945, we experience how family dynamics in Japan are affected by the war. For Suzu, her daily routines such as food preparation provide a necessary structure and distraction, despite the ever-worsening shortage of food and supplies. These stresses are compounded by air raid warnings over the radio and Suzu suffers through vivid nightmares.
This Japanese animated wartime drama film was adapted (thanks to a crowdfunding campaign last year) from the manga of the same name, written and illustrated by Fumiyo Kōno, the Hiroshima-born artist best known for her 2004 manga ‘Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms’.
Several Japanese anime films, such as ‘Barefoot Gen’, have powerfully dealt with the aftermath of Allied bombing runs over Japan during World War II. ‘In This Corner of the World’ is not an account of the Hiroshima bombing itself, nor is it a heavy-going war drama on par with the soul-scorchingly depressing ‘Grave of the Fireflies’, which depicted the horrors of World War II on Japanese civilians (that film remains the only Studio Ghibli film to not be distributed by Disney - it was too disturbing for them).
Co-written and directed by Sunao Katabuchi (‘Prince Arete’, ‘Mai Mai Miracle’), the film features character designs by Hidenori Matsubara (‘Oh My Goddess!’, ‘Sakura Wars’, ‘King of Thorn’) and music by Kotringo.
‘In This Corner of the World’ not only looks beautiful, but its animation style plays a big part in its story. Throughout the film, we learn how Suzu loves to draw, which is even more apparent against this anime’s beautiful hand-painted landscapes.
Reminiscent of many of Studio Ghibli's best works, ‘In This Corner of the World’ not only looks beautiful, but its animation style plays a big part in its story. Throughout the film, we learn how Suzu loves to draw, which is even more apparent against this anime’s beautiful hand-painted landscapes.
The film whips us through scenes and dreams from Suzu’s childhood - some of which unfold in her own sketches, others with a sketchiness that suggests her own artistic inclinations are colouring the way she views the world. Even air raids, anti-aircraft fire, and aerial battles in the skies above Hiroshima looks like rainbow-coloured splashes of ink, and makes Suzu breathe to herself: “I wish I had some paint.”
If there are any minor quibbles to be had with this film, it’s that it has the rhythm of an adapted manga. A succession of quick, five-minute vignettes stand in for the book’s chapters - take your eyes off the screen or let your mind wander and you’ll miss a key moment.
Katabuchi’s previous anime films are better known in the West among anime nerds rather than general film fans (though he has a following in France) - but the incredibly moving and sobering ‘In This Corner of the World’ should be the film to change that. If you have any interest in Japan’s war history, check this one out... just have a box of tissues or a sturdily-woven hanky at the ready.