ON IN CINEMAS
EIFF 2017: In This Corner of the World (2016)
Suzu (voiced by Non) is a young girl of an artistic bent who grows up in Hiroshima during WWII. Over time, she meets two boys. The first is Shūsaku (voiced by Yoshimasa Hosoya), whom she befriends after accidentally falling into the wicker basket he is being carried around in. Later on she meets Tetsu (voiced by Daisuke Ono), whom she spots at the sea shore. When he mentions that the waves look like hopping rabbits, she paints a picture of him (from behind) looking out to a sea with a number of white rabbits hopping across it.
Some years later, Shūsaku asks for her hand in marriage. She agrees, and moves into his family home on the outskirts of the seaside city of Kure. As her husband spends more time serving with the Japanese navy than with her, she spends her days helping out with various chores, practising her artistic skills and bonding with the other family members. However, as the war goes on the U.S. commences an increasingly heavy bombardment on the country, including on Kure itself - a major naval port. The film recounts her various adventures amid increasing food shortages, the mysterious underbelly of this unfamiliar city, and the increasing level of mortal danger posed by U.S. bombardments.
In This Corner of the World invites inevitable comparison with Studio Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies, another animated Japanese tale of the civilian struggle to survive WWII. Despite featuring its share of harrowing and downbeat moments, it doesn’t quite have the overwhelming emotional impact of that film. On the other hand, it’s a less overwhelmingly downbeat tale, and one that retains a ray of hope even in the midst of some incredibly dark situations and imagery. It’s one that finds its own voice, one of life going on, of artistic beauty in an ugly time, of making the most of an unimaginably horrific situation. It’s somewhat episodic and even a little humorous at times.
Visually, In This Corner of the World is a feast for the eyes. The streets of Hiroshima and Kure are brought to life with a wealth of nostalgic, pastel-coloured detail. The more rural scenes, by contrast, find their eye in the beauty of nature - of colourful sunsets, diverse wildlife from dragonflies to cats to birds, dandelion spores cast to the wind, the various flowers that Suzu picks for her makeshift stews. While the animation isn’t the smoothest around, the vast breadth and attention to detail within each frame is a treat for the eyes.
At times, the film breaks starkly free from its naturalistic, studied and deliberate canvas to render animated versions of Suzu’s oil art, or to cut through dramatic revelatory montages. It’s these moments that form the true emotional core of the film, that of the artistically-inclined soul processing situations in their own inimitable manner. If Suzu feels absent-minded and somewhat distant from the war going on around her (for the second and third acts, the closest she - and the viewer - gets, is through seeing distant warships massing in Kure’s otherwise tranquil bay), it’s because it is her own way of emotionally preparing for its vast scale and grossly unjust brutality. The film’s later scenes are where the true horror and devastation are seen first-hand, with some of the most scarring imagery ever seen in an animated anti-war film. Even here, however, not everything is necessarily lost. Life can go on.
It’s arguably a little overlong, and some of the subplots ultimately don’t add much to the story’s outcome (although they do add some neat character texture and detail). Still, In This Corner of the World is beautiful, arty and achingly human. It is getting a full UK release on 28th June 2017, and is well worth catching.
Runtime: 128 mins
Dir: Sunao Katabuchi
Script: Sunao Katabuchi, from a manga by Fumiyo Kono
Voices: Non, Megumi Han, Yoshimasa Hosoya, Natsuki Inaba, Nanase Iwai, Minori Omi, Daisuke Ono