Header Ads

In This Corner of the World (2016)

Suzu lives in Eba, a town in Hiroshima City in the 1930s, and loves to draw, and this is all we know about her for some time.

Sunao Katabuchi's vibrant film carries her through the following wartime years in the nearby town of Kure, where she moves after stoically accepting the sudden proposal of a complete stranger. In her new life cohabiting with her husband and his family, Suzu experiences kindness, rejection and dependence from them, all with a nagging longing herself for her hometown, which lingers a short train journey away. All the while, the film counts the months through the 40s, the morning of August 6th 1945 looming.

There is a great wonder in seeing historical drama play out in animation, the exaggeration allowing for certain details to be skipped over whilst focusing on visceral ones. Like leafing through a diary where highlights of meals, certain days, and other such tangible things leap out, the grander picture is not so much omitted as deemed inessential. What could be bland documentary moments, such as the preparation of food, come alive with the spice of anecdote and impressionism, the mundane and routine transformed into something worth being fascinated by, like a master painter's curious study of a labourer.

This allows the rest of the world, the one at our feet, to exist in a very arresting present, the grand mechanisms of the war operating above the influence of the characters we follow. The restricted perspective, despite lacking scope, has the effect of being utterly transporting. Few historical dramas achieve this so well; animated films such as Persepolis, Only Yesterday and Britain's Ethel and Ernest spring to mind as spiritual cousins, films that seek to evoke memories of what it felt like to be there over "what it looked like". The latter comparison brings to mind, too, a greater social function of filmmaking, a shared experience that is cathartic simply by virtue of depicting the everyday from stories collected in social memory.

There's little doubt how powerful this must be here for home audiences, but that is a bonus more than hindrance. If it is nostalgia, here it is presented in dramatised ways that evoke universal emotions, regardless of nationality or familiarity with customs or lifestyle. The value in seeing a family collapse with laughter after the drawing-mad Suzu is reprimanded by Military Police for drawing ships and the shoreline, for instance, is greater than any attempt to explain the inner workings of the organisation or even what exact ships she was drawing that day. This isn't to downplay the film's clear love and devotion to depicting the era and efforts to portray historical accuracies, it's simply to say it never feels unnecessary or a product of duty.

Katabuchi's interest in gazing back through the years seems to be to rediscover and to present things that may have been lost to more conventional depictions of the era. The film, for instance, beginning with a cute yet haunting rendition of Come All Ye Faithful set on a backdrop of a modest Christmas isn't immediately what you expect, but the colour it adds ensures even the backdrop of the film doesn't rely on stock or cliché settings. Other inventive experimental touches, including a stunning sequence made with the seldom-used scratched-on-film technique, are also woven neatly into the film's texture, matched with the impressionistic vibes and confidently separating the film further from historic reconstruction. The brilliant big-handed ultra-expressive character designs also play into this.

Most of the film's runtime is in playing cosy beats of slice-of-life drama sincerely, gently lulling you into a false sense of security before life changing-events leading up to and including the monumental climax hit with disarming impact and leave many completely reeling. Even then, however, the film sees the horrors through gaps in its fingers, not nervous to depict horror but equally not keen on lingering. No mushroom clouds or apocalyptic imagery, just confusion as usual for citizens on the home front, wondering about what caused thermal radiation shadows as life trudges on. We share the eyes of a passerby, God is busy elsewhere.

FORMATS Theatrical
FROM  Animatsu/Manga [UK],
Shout Factory/Funimation Films [US]
PG-13 [US]
2hr 9m

IN A NUTSHELL: Katabuchi's inventive yet un-showy direction leads a uniquely expressive film that seeks to find some comfort in the disorganized mechanisations of life and war.