Anime captures audiences in a way that CGI cannot. The great films of Hayao Miazaki, for example, invite viewers into a world of fantastical make-believe with such notable works as Mononoke Hime, Howl’s Moving Castle, and the more recent, The Wind Rises, which follows the story of Japanese aircraft engineer who helps to design WW2 fighter planes. Some of these entertain while others, like new release In the Corner of This World are built on truth. This animated drama presents a unique way to observe Japanese life and traditions.
The beginning plays to the background theme of All Come All Ye Faithful as the town celebrates the coming of Christmas. But, together with the soft art style in which its drawn, the tale is at once reminiscent of nostalgic and magical films such as The Snowman, which tells the story of a young boy who goes on an adventure to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus with his living snowman. While a different tale, this reference is important because it may well set the tone of the main character, Suzu, who remains childlike and gentle at heart, despite her domestic servitude. She is a girl that has always found herself in a daydream, often living far from the present.
The film deliberately runs nowhere for a long time, letting the village life and landscape of Eba and the mountainous Kure tell the story visually. The first half of the film is like a strolling daydream that explores the calm before the outbreak of war.
As Suzu Urano enters womanhood, a young officer from a neighbouring suburb notices her and asks for her hand in marriage. She accepts his offer and moves to the home of her husband, Shūsaku, and her in-laws. Her life suddenly becomes an ‘ordinary’ one: gathering water in pails at dawn from the neighbourhood well, cutting wood for the stove, preparing meals. Suzu is tasked with taking over the duties that her enfeebled mother-in-law would usually perform. Through all of this, she keeps the shy innocence of a girl who sometimes stumbles when she forgets to follow house rules and expectations. Yet this tale serves as backdrop to the true horror that the audience knows is coming: the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is the moment that decided the end of the war for the Japanese. In the second half or next ‘act’ of the film, days and nights are disrupted by air raids and enemy fighter bombing runs.
The movie’s themes centre around the different aspects of change: changing from childhood to adulthood, entering married life, shifting traditional values, coping with death and the effects of war… Even the moment when enemy fighters fly overhead symbolises upheaval and powerful change for the main character. At one point, the aircraft appear to Suzu as splashes of paint against the sky, signalling her natural, creative desire to break away from her life and reconnect with her artistic real self through the growing calamity.
In the Corner of this World is a beautifully designed animated drama, ironically set against the backdrop of war. Somehow it manages to balance narrative flow and art direction while relaying its more serious messages to audiences. J.K.A. Short
‘In the Corner of this World’ is in cinemas now.