In This Corner of the World
Non, Yoshimasa Hosoya, Minori Omi, Natsuki Inaba (voices)
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…this is one of the year’s best….
There is a terrible cost to war that lingers long after the guns have fallen silent. In This Corner of the World is more than a film, it is the embodiment of a national memory full of guilt, shame and loss. By bringing to life such a memory it also reckons with it and allows more than one nation to move on with renewed hopes of peace.
The film starts pre-war with a young girl, Suzu Urano, growing up in the seaside town of Eba in Hiroshima. Suzu has a great talent for drawing, a wild imagination and a kind heart. These qualities will cause her trouble but also see her touch the lives of many. One such person is a boy, Shusaku Hojo, whom she meets in the city one day and years later asks for her hand in marriage. Leaving her family behind, Suzu moves to Kure to live with his family where he is mostly absent due to his work as a naval clerk.
On one level the story works as a family dramedy, with Suzu trying to ingratiate her way into the new household. Most members are supportive but there is a lot she has to learn about keeping a house running, and Japan has started war rationing. Her new sister-in-law Keiko Kuromura is not so warm, openly critical of everything she is trying to master as a good wife and daughter-in-law. Keiko’s six-year-old daughter Harumi Kuromura is far more hospitable, which of course begs the question, are there layers to Keiko?
The war looms over everything in the story; we see the idyll of Suzu’s childhood destroyed by the war and we know what is coming to her hometown even if we do not know what her fate will be. Her coming of age is juxtaposed against her country’s loss of innocence.
Through telling a domestic tale, the protagonist is always out of the loop of what will befall her, enduring the war effort rather than being a part of it. As more is stripped away from her we can understand when she rails against the ‘enemy’ after one bombing.
Director Sunao Katabuchi (Mai Mai Miracle, assistant director on Kiki’s Delivery Service, and the Ghibli pedigree is evident) has made a beautifully animated film, painstakingly recreating what the streets of these cities looked like throughout the changing years of 1933 to 1946. The research doesn’t just pay off in the film’s aesthetics, there are small insights into the Japanese culture of the time, the way military personnel think lowly of civilians, the way Suzu describes a woman she meets in one end of town in terms of how she smells and dresses without recognising that she is a prostitute as clearly as the audience does. There is a wonderful way that Suzu’s goodness echoes down throughout the years and interactions with others inform their past and her future.
The film captures bombings in a variety of different manners. There are small close ups of shaking structural beams in a bunker, which capture the point of view of being in such a terrifying moment. Alternately, in one breathtaking sequence, Suzu is out on a hill overlooking the bay when an armada strikes. Katabuchi builds the increasing tension cutting away music, slowing down the tracking of shots and gradually increasing the sounds of the incoming planes. In another scene, the telling of one bomb going off is told in fragmented shots with the screen going black at times, reflecting the shaky memories of someone concussed by an explosion.
Throughout, Suzu narrates her story and others, some moments are fanciful, others are painful, and many are heroic. Perhaps the greatest courage is shown at the end when survivors slowly go on, day by day. What has been lost can never be regained but those of us who are alive, have to go on living. And maybe in the living, one day there will be a world worth living in, if not for us then for the next generation.
This is one of the year’s best.