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Score: 8.29/10

Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni

Synopsis

Suzu Urano is a pure and kindhearted girl who loves to draw. She can also be quite the airhead, owing to her ceaseless daydreaming, much to the annoyance but also the joy of those close to her. Growing up in the outskirts of Hiroshima City, Japan, she led an ordinary but happy life with her family. However, after some time, Suzu has to suddenly leave her beloved home to move into the neighboring town of Kure, due to her marriage to Shuusaku Houjou, a man she barely knows. Put to work in her husband's household, the homesick girl struggles to adjust to the unfamiliar environment, living with a family who treats her coldly. She cannot help but question: can this ever truly become her new home? Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni depicts the years from 1933 to the end of World War II, when peaceful everyday life gradually gives way to harsh and unforgiving conditions, as the war eventually reaches Japan's shores and Suzu's own backyard. She will have to prevail against the inevitable suffering and loss that accompanies war, all the while supporting herself and those she comes to love. [Written by MAL Rewrite]

This is another film I saw at Annecy, and a considerable part of my review is going to focus mainly on the audience’s reactions to it since I think they were pretty telling. I will also be reviewing this as a person who has not read the manga the film is adapted from.

I was fortunate enough to go to the very first screening of this film at the festival, which featured a short talk by Mr Katabuchi and, needless to say, the audience was very excited to watch the film. French isn’t my best language but what I got from it was that Katabuchi believes younger generations in Japan don’t realise how the war affected people, and it’s perhaps likely that foreigners don’t either (as a foreigner, I feel this is true of me). He felt that the original manga helped educate people about it through a very personal lens, by immersing them in and exploring how it affects the life of an ordinary woman from Hiroshima, and he hoped the film would do the same.

Well, that it certainly did. The film itself is slow, and beautifully so. The actual plot, as in most slice of life, is minimal. There is no big conflict to be resolved. Just life, and the war that affects it. And this was all extremely unnerving.

From the very beginning of the film, you could feel the tension in the theatre. We, as an audience, didn’t all know about how the war affected individual Japanese people, but we all knew about the war, and certainly about what that meant for Hiroshima in particular. As the film progressed, and more and more time passed, the tension in the room grew stronger. People were, quite literally, at the edges of their seats. It’s an awful feeling – you know what will happen. You see all this stuff happening to people but you know it’s not the culmination, because you KNOW what will inevitably happen in Hiroshima, and you’re just waiting for it to happen. With most films, there’s often the potential of something terrible happening, and you’re waiting to see if it will happen. With In This Corner of the World, a slow-moving 2 hour masterpiece of a film, you don’t wait to see IF the big bad thing (that the characters don’t even know about) happens. You wait to see WHEN it happens, and that is the most unnerving feeling in the world.

And I think In This Corner of the World knows how unnerving it is, and it plays with that. At several points in the film it builds up the tension and the feeling that something bad will happen, and you could hear little gasps in the audience. We were being played with in a very cruel way that only a very good film could. Once a character is invited to go to Hiroshima for a festival, and I heard someone whisper “oh no”.

And when IT inevitably happened, it was… brief, and unspectacular. It was not the huge culmination we had all been waiting for which, instead of underwhelming, made the whole thing even more uncomfortable. The entire theatre felt more silent than it had been the entire time.

I suspect we, as a majority of foreigners, expect that the bombing of Hiroshima would be the absolute worst thing to happen (I know I sure did), but it wasn’t. The aftermath, of course, was another deal, but that’s what I feel is so special about In This Corner of the World. It’s not spectacular in the sense of being a spectacle, it’s spectacular in the sense of being quietly real. We know the experience of an entire nation, more or less. We know what happened. But what we’re shown is the experience of just a handful of people. It makes it personal, and it makes it special.

And, through all the suffering you see in this film, in the end you can’t help but feel a certain… hope. In the end, even after all the hard-hitting stuff you see on screen, you’re left with a feeling of it gets better. You know it gets better, and you remember not just the hardships of the characters but also the message of sheer human resilience, and hope, so much of it.

In This Corner of the World is an absolutely beautiful film. It truly is a masterpiece, for any film – animated or not, and if you have a good supply of tissues, I can not recommend it enough.

I'll begin by stating my strongest gripe: the film feels disjointed due to the abrupt way it cuts the scenes and how little time is dedicated to deal with certain problems within the story. My guess is that they were trying to create this monotony that most people experience in their daily lives. It makes sense considering the movie is a sort of "mundane" approach on the issue of living under bombing raids and military pressure. Still, every time a work attempts to present a lighthearted atmosphere in the middle of such overall grim situation, I can't forgive but to think it's limiting itself by not adopting a solid stance. See, there's nothing wrong in trying to convey this contrast between innocence and cruelty, but trying to force that by moving from one moment to another without a time to breathe isn't quite rewarding. An example of that done right would be Hotaru no Haka, which regardless of how emotionally intrusive or morally ambiguous you consider it to be, is masterfully directed and avoids major discomfort regarding pacing by simply not suddenly changing the mood of everything just to convey the banality and mundanity of sordid events. Aesthetically speaking, my only gripe is how much the character design seems marshmallowed and unfit for whatever mood intended. At first, I found it to be overall pleasing and cute, but as soon I realized it was confusing me on whether I should be relaxed or tense, it began to bother me. Aside from that, it's overall gorgeous with a unique touch of visual realism that's always welcome in any war drama. The backgrounds are detailed and cozy, rich in colors and identity, vivid and with an endearing picture book-esque look. There are also several angles only properly done through aerial photography, which again denotes the commitment to realism where it's due. It's simply undeniable the amount of care put into it. The animation is fluid enough, though I believe it wasn't the focus as more often than not it's obvious they want you to pay attention to the scenery instead of how things move. However, once the bombings take place, the animation reaches its peak and realistically depicts war explosions battering the screen in a manner that I doubt has ever been so accurate in anime medium. I won't lie, the protagonist's voice doesn't fit, but it's still a great voice. It doesn't fit due to the cartoonish look that is like seeing a little girl talking like an adult. I appreciate how natural the voices sound; in contrast to the artificial screeches that exist within the medium, the voices are closer to what real people sound like. Odd as it may seem to have a new type of voice to be your main character, it is these little actions that diversify the search for new talents and different approaches in the industry, thus, commendable. Characterization-wise, it's obvious that the protagonist is the main focus. It's a coming of age depicting the development of a female character who faces several minor conflicts involving her family while dealing with the war and its outcome, and honestly, a lot is left to be desired. Most of the movie details a very generic situation: Suzu coming to acknowledge her own capabilities and trying to cease fire with her sister in law Keiko. The mundanity of events is way too clear, so much that it begins to beg for something more substantial to happen. Some major events like death and moments of extreme doubt are, unfortunately, rushed and not properly developed. It does not suffice to dedicate a mere few minutes to explore the regret, anger, and mourning involving an important and present character's death. In the end, Suzu doesn't really change beyond one would expect from the very beginning, as she doesn't draw a very innovative conclusion out of the whole picture the film provides to us. War is bad and we need to do our best. This is a rather common problem I perceive in most anime about war: they don't really do anything with the premise. It's interesting to explore different facets regarding a theme, but it's not actually leading anywhere. The mundanity of war isn't ambitious enough. Even then, its execution could have been superb if it wasn't rushed. This would give both the protagonist and the audience enough time to contemplate, feel, and think beyond the monotony she was trapped in but not necessarily brainwashed by. It'd be a lie to say that 90% of the film isn't simply Slice of Life in War. In itself, it's not a bad concept, but it requires extremely careful directing to hold an air of poignancy. It's possible to delve further into other characters, but I don't believe they're worth analyzing when they mainly just set a conflict with the protagonist or contribute to the lighthearted vibe that weaves throughout the movie. It is indeed a character-driven movie, but by a character who isn't very deep or interesting past what's presented from the beginning. She does change, but just a little and we are mostly presented to how she reacts and interacts with others rather than how those reactions and interactions change her through time, which in my opinion should be the focus in any character study sort of story (as in Ashita no Joe for example). In the end, In this Corner of the World can be a very good movie depending on what you're expecting and planning to enjoy out of it. I can't stop thinking this is a "feels good" sort of anime and no matter what tragedy they tried to convey, it just didn't resonate with me at all. Maybe I had set the bar too high and got slightly disappointed, but my biggest gripes are without a doubt the pacing that's occasionally repulsive and the abrupt cuts that can annoy some viewers, myself included. I do believe the movie had a solid and genuine intent as an adaptation made with care and I do believe its execution, albeit flawed, manages to deliver enough to constitute itself as a worth watching piece of animation.

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