Cinemapolis is a local movie theater known to feature independent and foreign films. Although it has found a niche with foreign films, they still rarely feature Japanese films. However, recently, a critically-acclaimed Japanese movie, In This Corner of the World (Kono Sekai No Katsumi Ni), was showing. This, added to the fact that the movie was well-reviewed and praised by many critics, led me to go to Cinemapolis and see the movie one night.
This colorful animated film (anime) is based on the manga series of the same name. Directed by Sunao Katabuchi, the movie has earned a number of awards at film festivals. In short, Kono Sekai No Katsumi Ni captures the hardships of the protagonist, a teenage girl named Suzu, and her birth family, as well as the new family that she marries into. The story is set in Japan near the end of World War II, and this movie is for the most part historically accurate, although the characters are all fictional. Suzu struggles to overcome poverty and stay afloat in a society that is ravaged by the hardships of a war economy and incessant air raids. Even after Suzu moves into a household in Kure, a major naval port city, it is made clear that she retains links with Hiroshima, a city that the viewer knows was later destroyed by the atom bomb, making the viewer fear for her family in an instance of dramatic irony.
Early on in the movie—and prior to the major bombing raids—the simple life of Suzu in Hiroshima is artfully expressed through illustrations. Suzu is a young woman who loves art and painting but is suddenly thrust into Kure, a seemingly foreign environment, when she is married off to a young man named Shusaku Hojo. From that point on, she is separated from her family in Hiroshima and must cope with the expectations of a wife placed on her by Shusaku’s family. Suzu faces hardship but matures as an individual.
During the first half of the movie, there are beautiful scenes of the sea and everyday life on the shore, accentuated by the movie’s unique watercolor-like art style. In the second half of the movie, the mood darkens and the art is less uplifting. You can observe the descent of Japanese society into desperation as the war turns against them and they lose their military superiority. An unsafe and foreboding atmosphere is created through the medium of sound with shocking air raids that can be heard and noisy strafing runs by Allied aircrafts. The civilians suffered a lack of food and supplies. With a shortage of food, Suzu and her in-laws turn to alternative means of attaining nourishment. We observe her trying harder than ever to maintain the household during difficult times while making the best of tragic events.
In a particularly charming scene, Suzu admires the waterfront with her niece, Harumi, as naval ships pull into the harbor at Kure, which was a significant port during the war. They spot an oversized battleship, Yamato, a real battleship that was one of the largest ever made, but it meets its demise and sinks before Japan could truly utilize it. The ship is a reminder that Kure, due to its naval importance, was a primary target for the Allies.
When the atomic bomb inevitably hits Japan in this movie, its explosion is expressed in an artistic and unexpectedly impactful manner. Contrary to most films, which cannot resist using a loud explosion sound and a large mushroom cloud rising up, Kono Sekai no Katsumi Ni is both subtle and realistic in showing a sudden flash and change of colors in the sky with no sound at first. The protagonists then wonder what happened, assuming that it was simply a strange case of lightning. The delayed impact actually manages to increase the tension, and viewers expecting a big bang are put on hold. First, there is a flash in the distance, and a visit to the ground zero scene of devastation comes later. The tragic events of that day on August 6, 1945 are seen through the eyes of a girl living on the outskirts of Hiroshima, not the city center.
Although I enjoyed the art style of the movie and appreciated how it captured the violence and hardships Japanese citizens underwent, I was a bit dissatisfied by the ending of the film. Towards the end of the film, things begin to turn more violent. While understandable, this change in atmosphere is not in keeping with the charm of the movie’s previous moments, in which the violence of war is downplayed and expressed by more creative means of expression. Another thing I noticed when watching this film is that its focus is solely on the Japanese hardships, and, in a sense, a glorification of Japanese culture, whereas the horrific losses in China, Korea, and the United States get no mention. Somewhat unexpectedly, the soldiers in the Japanese navy are shown to be proud and honorable men. In some cases, this might have been true, but the film does not account for Japanese military aggression.
All in all, Kono Sekai no Katsumi Ni was compelling and displayed both the brutality of war and life’s poignant moments in an artistic and creative manner, so much so that it outweighed the shortfalls of the film. I would encourage not just those interested in World War II, but also those interested in family dramas and issues of war and peace, to watch this film. I could go on and on about the quality animation and the emotional impact of the movie, but there is no substitute for watching it yourself.