Definitely an animated film that's worth watching thanks to its mastery of comedy and how one girl's life growing up changes due to WWII.
Title: In This Corner of The World (Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni)
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Historical
Publisher: MAPPA (JP), Shout Factory (US)
Original Creator: Fumiyo Kouno
Director: Sunao Katabuchi
Script: Sunao Katabuchi
NOTE: Seen at the Japan Society on 7/23. General release is scheduled for August. Manga UK was the provider.
In This Corner of The World takes a refreshing spin on depicting WWII and stories about Hiroshima. Specifically, it takes a more humorous approach than films before it while still maintaining historical accuracy. It’s that approach that works in its favor, aside from one big mistake that ultimately makes the rest of the film feel super awkward, and it takes some significant tragedies that happen to the characters to save it completely.
Based on the manga by Fumiyo Kouno, In This Corner of The World is a story (not an auto or semi-autobiographical work) that tackles the war in a new way: by building up to it. We experience the life of Suzu Urano, as she grows up in Eba, a town in Hiroshima prefecture. Suzu is clumsy and very innocent, and doesn’t worry about much — she just tries to have fun, she draws, and she gets herself lost, or just daydreams. When she’s of age however, she’s asked to marry someone she doesn’t know and live in rural Kure, still in the same Hiroshima prefecture. As she tries to live this life while being slow at some of the basic tasks, WWII begins, presenting a set of challenges that she cannot control.
The most notable, and standout, part of In This Corner of The World is the humor. Most films tackling this subject matter will have some levity at times, but for this one, humor dominates every aspect. Almost anytime something Suzu says or does has a cute facial reaction that manages to bring forth only smiles and gut busting laughter. For example, how can you not smile after you led two people out of the forest back into the city — by the way, that one person was Shusaku, who came to Hiroshima and asked to marry her. Suzu also knew who those two people were too, but because she hid herself they had no idea.
The dialogue is super witty and also contributed to the fun. Anytime Suzu’s family, or sister-in-law Keiko, or people she knew from school, etc, talked about her, was fantastic. Especially throughout the first half, and with the film’s fast pace, you will be hard pressed to not find a couple of moments of laughter as the humor is genuine, and because of the way they established the characters, it works out well in its first half. Speaking of pace, this anime moved fast. Maybe not like MAPPA’s more famous fast paced anime, but between transitioning calendars and character actions, it definitely covered things fast and it did so in a way that didn’t hurt the film in any way.
The visuals of In This Corner of The World are pretty great. Starting from the characters to the buildings, to eventually the bombings and the devastation of the war, of course the bombings are not great to look at but it puts the war into perspective. They even incorporate Suzu’s talent for drawing as well, which is a nice change of pace.
In This Corner of The World doesn’t shy away from the effects of the war. From depicting the daily air raids, the people harmed by society and the war, and Suzu’s reaction to it all is heartbreaking. In fact, just seeing how this affects Suzu completely is pretty crazy. It also focuses on others — Keiko, who hates Suzu; Tetsu, her childhood friend; and a few other characters that impacted Suzu’s growth, positively and negatively.
However, its transition from comedy to war story is where the immersion and charm of In This Corner of The World begins to stumble.
The challenge going forward with the film was, eventually, we know the war was coming and would affect their daily lives. So how would the anime transition from humor to tragedy? It is not easy, but it’s certainly possible to do it in a manner that’s natural and fits with the film.
Instead, it botches the transition. At least, the more I thought about it after the film ended, the more I’m sure it was a scene that wasn’t needed. Using a staple of Suzu that’s consistent with what she does seems sound, but this particular trait for that transition moment took me out of the film. Jokes that worked so well in its first half felt hard to laugh at when chaos and significant deaths occurred in its second half. Only the changes with the characters, and the events that happened thanks to the war, made it all work.
That makes it really disappointing. There have been works that stumbled as it headed toward its second half, but this one was tough to take since everything was pretty great up to that point. Having recently seen works like Barefoot Gen and Grave of The Fireflies, and having read manga like Shigeru Mizuki’s Showa, it’s hard to say how much those works affected how I took the scene, but I believe it may have been a factor, or maybe knowing the history was a factor as well.
Also, this is actually a point in In This Corner of The World’s favor — it is pro-Japan since we’re experiencing Suzu’s perspective of everything around her. It actually makes sense to have this viewpoint instead of the mostly anti-Japan stance or 50-50 edge. The problem was I don’t even recall if it was acknowledged that Japan made its mistakes too. Even just commentary from a character would have been nice, but we only got Suzu’s perspective, which makes her reaction when the war is finally announced to be over kind of odd, since she never actually gave too many thoughts about it.
Despite the misgivings I did have with its second half, In This Corner of The World is a must-watch for an anime fan and film watchers in general. It’s a dose of humor that actually works, with a number of events taking place that are tragic and hard to watch. If you happen to find it in your area, you should go see it.