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.