Director: Sunao Katabuchi
Runtime: 129 minutes
Directed by Sunao Katabuchi and based on the critically acclaimed manga of the same name by Fumiyo Kono, In This Corner of the World is an elegant coming-of-age story in WWII Japan. We follow eighteen-year-old artist Suzu Urano as she is spirited away from her hometown of Hiroshima to marry an unknown suitor in Kure. As Suzu overcomes making a relationship with her new husband Shūsaku, homesickness, pleasing her frosty sister-in-law Keiko, and learning her duties as a wife, the hardships of war bear down on the family.
In This Corner of the World is a simple story of day-to-day life in 1940s Japan, and Suzu is a wonderful protagonist. Her caring and creative personality comes out in her illustrations, which are animated with watercolours as opposed to the traditional cell-shading used for the rest of the film. As Suzu becomes familiar with her husband’s family, their unique personalities and stories start to unfold, and Suzu does her best to adapt to her new life. At no point does this large cast feel stereotypical or flat, providing a beautiful sense of depth to Suzu’s relationships with her family, both old and new.
Imagination and reality intertwine easily, with Suzu’s paintings and sketches of her surroundings depicting a pre-Atomic Hiroshima and Kure that would soon be forever lost. Caught in an air raid, Suzu is mesmerised by the explosions around her, their smoke lighting up the sky in splashes of watercolour. Yet for a film that is about Hiroshima and Kure, and about war, In This Corner of the World has its comedy too, mostly revolving around Suzu’s youth and inexperience. For instance, after being caught in the rain, Suzu and husband Shūsaku take cover in their newly dug out bomb shelter, and lean in to kiss only to realise the rest of the family is in there with them. Another incident with a jar of sugar is a testament to the accidents we have in the kitchen which seem incredibly silly in hindsight.
However, In This Corner of the World is a bittersweet film. There is an undeniable tension between the peace Suzu’s family are trying to maintain during the war, and the audience’s knowledge of the atomic bombs due to land on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombing itself is depicted with a single flash, and it is made more emotional by the connection formed with Suzu, and the people around her. The confusion and chaos of the aftermath pulls no punches, tapping into Japan’s despair at such a horrific event. We are reminded of the fragility of life, and the way in which war can destroy indiscriminately, basing the survival of those left behind on coincidence and chance. Suzu had been planning to visit her biological family in Hiroshima, and would have likely died if it hadn’t been for a rescheduled appointment that prevented her from leaving a week earlier.
While the atomic bombing itself is significant and could lead to an unhappy conclusion, it is Suzu’s gentle kindness that draws the film to a sweeter ending. Even though she has been through so much, falling into depression the longer the war drags on, Suzu discovers her own strength, value, and ability to live as best she can for those who are no longer with her.
In This Corner of the World is not to be skipped, as it brings a unique depiction of WWII Japanese civilian life, balanced by Suzu’s light character and artistic way of seeing her world. It does not shy from the realities of war, but at the same time it does not maintain a depressing atmosphere, knowing that there was life and happiness even in such dire circumstances.