By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
To my knowledge, few Japanese animated movies exist which looks at a part of history from World War II with a perspective not overdone. Isao Takahata’s Grave of the Fireflies is the granddaddy of the genre because it’s so depressingly sad, and Barefoot Gen somewhere on the vein of being positive while it looks at the aftermath. With In This Corner of the World (この世界の片隅に), the point of view is from innocent bystanders. The atomic destruction of Hiroshima has not happened yet. This particular fact is not dwelled upon. Nobody is aware except for the viewer. Most of the characters are blissfully unaware.
This film looks at the life of an idyllic young girl, Suzu (Rena Nōnen), living her life through a veil. She wants to be an artist and she describes herself as a daydreamer. A significant part of her life is portrayed and it has a Studio Ghibli like quality during this innocent time. This fact is of no surprise as Director Sunao Katabuchi worked on Kiki’s Delivery Service.
As a young child living in Hiroshima, Suzu has an odd meeting with a boy in a basket being carried by a hairy figure (a troll?). Little does she know what will transpire next. The details showing what life was like in this city are exquisite. When she is older, she has a mysterious suitor whom she agrees to marry. While Japan goes through the paces entering World War II and hints at war weariness following the fall of Nazi Germany, Suzu does not take notice. She is more concerned about housekeeping and assisting her in-laws. Since moving away from the big city to a seaside town to live with her husband, the fact this port has a huge navy presence is a distant thought. As time passes, she deals with the military way of life which includes practising air raid drills
The way this movie plays out is through her eyes. The film is very poetic in a few scenes, especially picturesque given the historical circumstances and tearfully sombre when reality hits. The mixed format of presenting varying art styles during the highlights of the narrative works very well to not only lighten the mood of the story and also hide the darker moments.
The story about her relationship with her husband does not feel awkward. Their affection is not your typical Hollywood romance. This film is a drama about people first and the situation they are in second. Katabuchi does a wonderful job in balancing the bits of fact with fiction and inserting bits of folklore into the narrative. The moments where the visuals are foreshadowing the inevitable is eerie. I’m fairly sure the appearance of the heron which Suzu chases away is symbolic. Perhaps it’s a sign that she will never find true happiness.
As the film steadily advances to that day, I was glued to every moment, wondering if these people even realize doomsday is around the corner? When she even talks about going back home to Hiroshima because of a spat, and I’m shouting at the screen, “Don’t!”
The dates placed throughout the film is a countdown to the inevitable. This detail delivers the required tension and how it’s delivered is perfect. Instead of another visual look of how terrible atomic warfare is, this film delivers a fine message of hope.
When considering people gathered in Hiroshima City (Aug 6) for the Peace Memorial Ceremony, the timing of this movie’s release in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles August 11th could not be any better to close off the week. This film originally released in Japan November 12 of last year, and will get further North American release August 18th.
In Canada, the venues are:
Toronto – Cineplex Yonge- Dundas
Halifax – Cineplex Park Lane
Vancouver – Cineplex The Park Theatre
Calgary – Cineplex Eau Claire
Ottawa – Cineplex South Keys Cinemas