IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD (Japan 2016) ***1/2
Directed by Sunao Katabuchi
This animated feature from studio MAPPA is a rare treat. It is seldom that North Americans get to see a Japanese anime that is not violent manga and not from Studio Ghibli. That is not to say that Studio Ghibli stuff is bad but variety is the spice of life as they say. Based on the award-winning Japanese manga by Fumiyo Kouno, IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD is written and directed by Sunao Katabuchi and produced by GENCO and Japanese animation studio MAPPA. Bolstered by emotionally resonant storytelling, as is evident from the very first frame and exquisite hand-drawn animation, this acclaimed animated feature recently won the coveted Animation of the Year award at this year’s 40th Japan Academy and the Jury Prize at ANNECY 2017.
Director Katabuchi opens his tale in 1933 setting the stage for his coming-of-age story of a girl called Suzu affected by the War setting. The subject is said to be a daydreamer, which gives the film chance for fantasy and imagination.
Though the characters do not move as fluidly as in American animation, the background of many segments look something out of a water colour paining - especially the buildings, rocks, forests and mountains.
The film centres of Suzu, first seen as a little girl in school who loves to draw. The title of the film refers to place where Suzu first meets her further husband. The marriage is an arranged one and she moves from Hiroshima to Kure to live with her husband and his family. She does the chores but much more once World War II begins. Suzu experiences the horrors of World War II including the dropping of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.
World War II is seen from the view of Suzu and her family and husband’s family. There are no combat scenes but the effects of the war are still as devastating. Families are always in danger from bombings and the daily routines involve constant running to the bomb shelters. Suzu loses her niece and a part of her body due to one of the bombings and director Katabichi does not shy away from showing the horrors of war. The dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima where Suzu’s family lives also occurs during the film’s climax. Katabuchi does not judge the Americans for the catastrophe neither does he mention their collaboration with Germany.
An arranged marriage is always full of ‘ifs’. The one here, laid out bare for Suzu’s point of view is similarly one full of both fear and anticipation. Suzu leaves her home she is used to to live with her new husband and his family. The wedding is a small one with lots of unfamiliarities. But Suzu is finally comforted when her husband eventually shows her affection on the wedding night - in the film’s most enchanting sequences.
IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD ends up an empowering coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of World War II, while parading the resilience and triumph of the human spirit.