TL;DR – a story of how war can shatter lives but not the human spirit.
Review (warning: spoilers)
On 6 August 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima killing over 100,000 people, most of whom were Japanese civilians. Three days later another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, and six days after that Japan formally surrendered. Thus signalling the end of World War II.
In This Corner of the World (aka Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni) is the story of Suzu, a Japanese girl, growing up during a time of war and depicts the events primarily leading up to the bombing of Hiroshima.
War drama films are always going to be a bit of a hard slog. Japanese anime does not shy away from violent depictions and adult themes and explores genres on every part of the spectrum from real life events to complete fantasy worlds.
Having seen Graveyard of the Fireflies, another war drama anime film that left me in a puddle of tears and scarred me deeply, I had left In This Corner of the World on my to-do list for some time. When I finally watched it, I was surprised at how poignant and moving it was not just in a war torn horrific way but also in a ‘human spirit will rise’, hopeful way.
The main character, Suzu, is quiet and unassuming and has a passion and love for drawing and art. She’s a bit of a day dreamer, go-with-the-flow kind of girl and enjoys the simple things in life. Living in a small, seaside town called Eba (close to Hiroshima) in the 1930s, the beauty of the country is captured in a way that can’t help but move you. The people who live there are going about their lives in peace, and seeking to embrace the joys of their existence.
As the viewer, I raised the defences around my heart knowing this was the calm before the storm. I didn’t want to fall in love with the people or the place knowing the devastation that would come around the corner, but as the animation continued, I could not help but fall in love with Suzu, those close to her, and the town she lives in.
It is somewhat cruel that the animation style of the characters in In This Corner of the World look so cute. Even the adults look small. It reminded me somewhat of Charlie Brown & the Peanuts gang comic strips written and illustrated by Charles M. Schulz. A kind of anime version of it where every character is short and child-like even if they’re adults. When Suzu looks abashed for being caught day dreaming, her head turns and leans to the side in a way that you can’t help think she looks adorable. Like you want to pick her up and cuddle her.
This makes Suzu and all the people we see in her life look more vulnerable. As the air raids commence leading up to the Hiroshima bombing, and the food rationing comes into force, every moment they continue moving forward, there is a silent dread that eventually, the wave of war will come crashing down.
The bonds that Suzu develops shows she is always trying to do her best to be a good person and make the most out of a deteriorating time caused by war. An arranged marriage sees her move to Kure, an hour or so train ride outside of Hiroshima, and learning to be a responsible adult and good wife to Shusaku (who genuinely loves her and treats her with respect even if, at times, he seems like he doesn’t know how to connect to her). Likewise, Suzu learns to love her new family, even Shusaku’s sister, Keiko, who treats Suzu with a kind of tough love. Keiko’s daughter, Harumi, has an especially strong connection to Suzu and the pair enjoy spending time together and laughing. I think Suzu sees a little of her young, care free self in Keiko, and thus this is why they get on so well.
From an animated point-of-view, it is remarkable how well production company MAPPA is able to animate Suzu creating her art. One scene where she paints the coast of Eba and turns the white frothing waves into rabbits is stunning. Animating Suzu’s hands as she holds a pencil and does sketches of a building are seamless and inspiring.
You connect, even if you don’t want to, with everything Suzu experiences, and the movie succeeds in getting you to invest your emotion knowing full well what is to come.
But what surprised me is that even when the horrors happen, Suzu is still able to see the beauty in the world and the people in her life. Even if her heart breaks, and her mind tries (and fails) to process the tragedies of war, she continues to live her life.
Ironically, it is not the atomic bomb going off that struck me hardest. It was the moment when Suzu and Harumi are walking hand-in-hand down a road and see a crater. Suzu realises too late that there is a time-delayed bomb in the crater, and though she survives, Harumi is killed in the explosion and Suzu’s loses her right hand (which she uses to draw her art).
The ensuring scenes where Suzu has to learn to do everything with one hand; the anger, tears and accusations hurled at her by Keiko; and the pure strength of will that Suzu has to muster to continue moving forward are all heart wrenching as well as inspiring.
I am thankful that, even after the bomb is dropped on Hiroshima, Suzu survives with her husband Shusaku, and they lean on each other and strive to rebuild their lives. When a little girl, her mother died due to shrapnel shortly after the bomb, crawls up to Suzu seeking food and help, the pair don’t even question who the girl is or where she is from. Her physical state and expression says it all, and Suzu and Shusaku take the girl into their home and adopt her.
From the ashes of such immense tragedy, life goes on, not just with hope but with light. In This Corner of the World is essential viewing.
9.5 out of 10