In This Corner of the World Review
Last year Makoto Shinkai’s film Your Name took Japan and the worldwide animation scene by storm. It was a beautiful, sweet, and fun movie, and was my favourite film of 2016. So imagine my surprise when I heard that at the Japanese Academy Prize awards the Animation of the Year award went to another film. I was curious about what could overtake a film that was such a huge phenomenon, and that film was the dramatic, artistic, and emotional In This Corner of the World; a very different experience from Your Name, but absolutely on the same amazing level.
Suzu is a cheerful young woman prone to daydreaming. She lives a happy but unremarkable life with her family in the seaside town of Eda, Hiroshima, during the 1930s. One day she is told that a man wishes to marry her and she will be moving in with him at his family’s home in the naval port of Kure. She does so and struggles to fit in with both his family and the changing way of life as the war starts and goes on, with varying degrees of success. However, there is an even more devastating change on the horizon.
There are times when watching In This Corner of the World isn’t like a typical narrative movie, but rather like an animated documentary, as its depiction of people living their day-to-day lives against the backdrop of World War II, something that we as Western audiences do not get to see in media often, feels so true and real. Adapted from a manga of the same name by Fumiyo Kono, this is another one of those films that is low on plot but big on story that I love which takes its time to focus on the characters and allows us to build connections to them during detailed little moments in their lives.
Suzu as a character is a sweet, if also very naïve, young woman who over the course of the film grows up and matures in some exceedingly beautiful and harsh ways, including a very sweet and simple love story as she gets to know the husband who is initially a complete stranger. We are there with her for that journey and wholly believe in her. The art style has a soft and at times hazy quality which is very evocative of memory, but is punctuated with daydream moments which break up the overall realism of the story. Both are visually beautiful and work together because this is all a part of Suzu’s character and how she sees and processes the world. She has an artist’s eye, and so we see things like distant explosions become splatters of paint in the sky.
Of course, there is a very dark cloud hanging over the story, Suzu’s life, and the lives of all of the people of Japan, that of the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6 1945. Whilst that key tragedy is kept in your mind as you watch the film, it is in a subtle way, it is not explicitly said but you know. There is also a later scene where the full horror of the bombing is shown. It is very sudden, but that just serves to drive the impact, and it is shocking, upsetting, and will stay in your mind. The strength of the film is that after all this it is still able to end on a note of hope, showing us that even in the face of devastation life can go on.
If any fault is to be had with the movie it is that at times things feel rushed or glossed over when you want a bit more detail, but this is more than likely a result of attempting to adapt several volumes of a manga into one single movie.
In This Corner of the World is gorgeous, heartfelt, full of those moments, good and bad, that make life what it is, and acts as an essential window into history.