In This Corner of the World

 

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An animated work that confirms that the genre is well suited to serious subject matter.

 
In This Corner of the World

  

In British cinemas 2017 is proving to be a great year for animated films from both Europe and the Far East - both My Life as a Courgette and The Red Turtle contained exceptional work and, if Japan’s A Silent Voice impressed me less, that was partly because for me it did not live up to another Japanese animation, Your Name, which reached us late in 2016. Now we have another fascinating animated feature from Japan, namely Katabuchi Sunao’s In This Corner of the World. It doesn't seek to be beautiful as The Red Turtle did and the drawn figures are less memorable than the marionette characters to be found in My Life as a Courgette but, despite that and the film’s own imperfections, it is undoubtedly a haunting work. Alone among the titles mentioned here, it is a film in which the story it tells is arguably more significant than the form in which it is delivered.

 

Katabuchi has himself provided the screenplay which is an adaptation of a manga by Kouno Fumiyo. It tells of the life of a girl named Suzu starting in 1933 and following through to 1946. We first met her when she is growing up in Hiroshima, an imaginative child with drawing skills. But this was a time of arranged marriages and by 1944 she is travelling to the port of Kure since a marriage proposal by a young man named Shusaku, whom she does not remember having met, has been accepted. Her life with her new and modest family (the husband is a clerk) is a rather harsh one so it might be expected that, since she had earlier met a fellow student name Tetsuo and sensed a bond with him, the marriage will be unhappy.

 

However, when it comes to the development of the personal tale the film does not take the anticipated path and, in any case, it yields pride of place to a portrait of daily life in Japan which would echo the work of Ozu but for the fact that his family stories ignored any direct detailed treatment of the war years. The episodic, anecdotal story that unfolds here gains in impact from the audience’s knowledge of what will happen in 1945 (an event from which this animated work doesn’t shy away). Indeed, the strongest feature of In This Corner of the World is that it makes us identify with ordinary people whose lives will be subject to the terrible forces beyond their control. Consequently, there is no surprise that those who have seen the 1988 classic Grave of the Fireflies should make comparisons since both works are Japanese animated films dealing with this period even if the earlier film is centred on siblings in contrast to the wider family life featured here.

 

This film begins in Suzu’s childhood and initially strikes a rather sentimental note, after which it takes a while to settle into the requisite sense of realism. Even later on there are occasional touches of stylisation that distract and the film, by being rather overlong and by meandering on beyond 6th August 1945, does sometimes seems misjudged. But these are minor points. Nothing can take away from the formidable impact of a film that covers such relatively unfamiliar ground by presenting the events of this period from the viewpoint of an ordinary Japanese family. Suzu’s dismay that Japan did not fight on but chose to surrender after the dropping of the A-bomb may take us aback but, that apart, this is a tale that successfully invites foreign audiences to share and experience the outlook of people caught up in history, people with whom we can identify.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Voices of  Non, Hosoya Yoshimasa, Ono Daisuke, Omi Minori, Han Megumi, Inaba Natsuki.

 

Dir Katabuchi Sunao, Pro Maruyama Masao and Maki Taro, Screenplay Katabuchi Sunao, based on the manga by Kouno Fumiyo, Art Dir Hayashi Kosuke, Ed Kashiko Kimura, Music Kotringo, Animation Dir Matsubara Hidenori.

 
GENCO, Inc. Animation/Studio MAPPA-National Amusements.
130 mins. Japan. 2016. Rel: 28 June 2017. Cert. 12A.