Films such as The Dam Busters, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence or more recently Dunkirk show the resilience in humanity via the actions of those who took part in the Second World War; people who tore down divides, remained stoic in the face of adversity, or protected their fellow soldiers whilst traversing a bloodied and muddied battlefield. Japanese animation In This Corner of the World, from director Sunao Katabuchi (Black Lagoon), tries an altogether different tact. Set in Japan during the Second World War, the film doesn’t show the difference one person can make during the war, but rather the difference war can make on one person.
Suzu, voiced by actor and model Non, is an idealistic young woman living with her family in Hiroshima. Upon turning 18, Suzu is married off to Shusaku (Yoshimasa Hosoya), a young man who lives in the naval city of Kure, several miles away from her family. From this point on, the first half of In This Corner of the World almost becomes a dramedy about a free-spirited woman trying to adapt to her new lifestyle of housewife. Indeed, the first hour is built up of little moments of Suzu flailing around whilst performing simple tasks, such as cooking and cleaning. Her likeable naivety shines throughout, such as when she meets a heavily perfumed woman who is clearly a sex worker to everyone but Suzu. Soon, however, Suzu begins to find her feet and whilst she doesn’t lose her open-hearted spirit, she certainly begins to grow up in the eyes of the audience.
Obviously, due to its setting, the shadow of war hangs heavy over the film. Simply seeing the word Hiroshima in this review will have quickly tuned you in to where Katabuchi is eventually going to lead us. As such, whilst Suzu continues her day-to-day existence – aware of the war, if not the full consequences of its outcome – we are privy to the exact date that takes up most of the film’s stronger second half. It’s a simple trick that manages to add a smattering of tension to proceedings, particularly when circumstances lead to Suzu being encouraged to move back to Hiroshima.
Circling back to the point made earlier, the war has an effect on Suzu that’s more than physical. Her imagination is the bedrock of her personality. Through the course of the film, we see her entertain her baby sister with tales of escaping hairy monsters. Later, she paints a poetic description of the sea into a literal interpretation on canvas. By the third act, Suzu is sadly using her expressive mind to conjure ways she could have saved a life. It’s a haunting evolution of the mind and contrasts sharply with the film’s gorgeous and soft animation.
It’s well-reported that Katabuchi worked hard to get an authentic and historically accurate look to the film, and it certainly paid off. Where he lets the film down, however, is when he dips into self-indulgence. A character declaring that “the bombings in Hiroshima aren’t as bad” as those in Suzu’s new home, for example, is too on the nose in terms of foreshadowing, and sticks out like a sore thumb when surrounded by the rest of the film’s delicate subtlety. Equally, a last-minute introduction of a new character in the final moments of the film cheapens the overall payoff.
Whilst these moments certainly frustrate, they do so only because the rest of the film is a wonderful piece of storytelling, backed up by exquisite visuals. Sombre in some moments and bursting with joy in others, In This Corner of the World is a treat for the eyes and heart.
THE REEL SCORE: 8/10