The world of animation is relatively new to certain demographics, and while the Western world has tried to create emotive content on this medium, it has fared badly against the Japanese, who have spent the last three decades crafting highly emotive and strong narratives that are beyond compare.
While Hollywood has spent millions on 3D animation, the Japanese have stuck with the classic use of tools, and their latest production, In This Corner Of The World, is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before.
Set in the years leading up to and after the Second World War, In This Corner of the World is primarily a coming of age story for young Suzu, who grew up in Hiroshima and eventually moved away.
World War II might be a distant memory for many, and our generation tends to consume the knowledge of WWII through history books and other assorted forms of entertainment. In my personal experience, I’ve always seen it through the lens of grim, mud covered caucasians, so it is a refreshing take to experience the war through the eyes of Suzu (Rena Nonen) a young Japanese girl, who’s trying to find her place in the world.
We witness how life could have been like starting from December 1933, and building up slowly towards the end of World War II. The mood of the film is largely sentimental and makes you yearn for a time where things were much simpler. While the art style used here is employed to good effect, it certainly does not match up to the standard found in Your Name, but it still gets the job done. Through the use of what is best described as a good mix of watercolour-inspired muted colours, In This Corner of the World achieves a ephemeral feel throughout the show. This helps capture life in the Japanese countryside devoid of flashy colours compared to its cityscape.
Working off this mood, we follow Suzu’s much accelerated journey of her childhood where it is revealed her love for drawing and her innocence become common themes throughout the entire movie. Suzu is by far the most passive of protagonists in which she largely makes no decisions of her own and the audience is treated to one of the most ‘ordinary’ experiences ever seen in an anime.
In the absence of any self-created drama, one might wonder where’s the sense of excitement in the entire movie. Even the point at which Suzu is married off to her eventual husband, Shusaku (Yoshimasa Hosoya), in an arranged marriage, shows the relationship moving along without a hitch. Suzu eventually adapts to her new family, and they welcome her presence into their household like one of their own. There’s no horror stories of scary in-laws to be found here and Suzu is genuinely happy to have been blessed with a new family and doting husband.
There is a sense of fascination peeking into what life might have been like for a regular Japanese civilian in the countryside during World War II. A large bulk of the show revolves around Suzu and the women in her household making the best of wartime rationing, and making full use of what meagre food supplies were handed out to them. But it is through the monotony of everyday life that makes the impact and effects of the war even more heart wrenching once the final act rolls on.
With the constant cadence of nightly air raids which forces Suzu and her family to seek refuge in a shelter regularly, one could possibly feel sympathetic at their plight, depending on which side of history you stand on. However, it is in the normalcy of life where the viewer can truly witness how much a negative impact a war can have on the regular folks in one of the darker periods of humanity.
Finally, when the eventual bomb drops to end the war, it’ll be hard not to feel a tinge of sadness for Suzu and family as she sees and learns that her home town is now a smouldering ruin. Compared to Studio Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies, In This Corner of the World is nowhere as emotionally crippling, but still respects the audience enough to properly communicate to them the harsh realities everyone would experience in the face of a destructive and emotionless war machine.
With In This Corner of the World, director Sunao Katabuchi provides a refreshing take for present day audiences on how to make a wartime movie with little use of violence, but still be able capturing the core tenet of hope.