In this Corner of the World (Dub)
Michael Potts | 16/10/2017
Films depicting war are common enough in modern cinema, and nowadays there are more that look at the home front, or at least at events away from the front-lines. It is less often that we in the West can catch a glimpse of civilian life in wartime for what was an enemy nation. In this Corner of the World, directed by Sunao Katabuchi, gives us such a glimpse through the medium of animation.
A manga adaptation, it tells the story of Suzu Hojou (nee Urano). Born a daydreamer with a penchant for artistry, we see a brief glimpse of her childhood before she travels as an eighteen year old to marry Shusaku Hojou and live with his family in the city of Kure, not far from her home in Hiroshima. Set against the backdrop of the Second World War, the privations of the conflict build, growing more and more oppressive as the film goes on, challenging Suzu and her in-laws as Japan’s defeat draws ever closer. The characters’ mundane daily lives of work, cleaning, cooking, shopping and so on become spliced with dividing of rations, air raids and dealing with the devastation and confusion of the war. The pain of this is magnified by defeat, and the film provides a fleeting window into what it’s like to lose a war, after having sacrificed and suffered so much.
The art and animation of In this Corner of the World is in pastel style, lacking the sharper tones and lines of other anime. But in this it loses none of its impact or beauty, and it helps blend the world and Suzu’s way of perceiving it through her art and imagination. The art style and narrative work together to create what is an idyllic cast and setting, the latter of which is loving recreated from period photography and other sources. But, this innocence finds power, at times heart-wrenching, contrast with the national tragedy unfolding around the characters. With one exception, the audience is visually spared the gruesome visual reality of war, but the film nonetheless pulls no punches in showing just what war does to civilians in a country under fire. Death, malnourishment and displacement are common occurrences. In this sense it is reminiscent of Studio Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies.
Nevertheless, In this Corner of the World retains a sense of hope throughout. As much as it is a representation of the devastation of war and of what humans are capable of inflicting on one another, the film is equal parts a story of perseverance and recovery, as well as the importance of family and community. This is where the full cast of characters shines. Apart from Suzu and perhaps a couple of others, the characters hold their appeal, not as individuals, but collectively, in their interactions with Suzu and each other. They are a pleasure to watch.
On that note, the dub voice cast do a commendable job of carrying the emotional weight of the film. It is obvious at times that the script was not written natively in English, which can cause some lines to feel a little strange. But this does little to detract from a poignant, engaging film.
In this Corner of the World is a beautifully realised imagining or wartime Japan, with an endearing cast and emotional story. Catch it if you can during the Japanese Film Festival.