Beautiful, touching and compelling, we may just have the best animated film of the year…
Beating out box-office sensation Your Name for Animation of the Year at the Japan Academy Awards, In This Corner of the World comes with a considerable pedigree. Director Sunao Katabuchi (Mai Mai Miracle) worked for Studio Ghibli before breaking out on his own, and his third feature film confirms his gift for telling unique and powerful stories centred on young women. His latest feature spans the 1930s and ‘40s, though most of the film takes place during 1944-45.
This film centres on Suzu (Non), a kind-hearted, artistic girl from Eba, a small seaside town in Hiroshima. At 18, she receives a marriage proposal from Shusaku (Yoshimasa Hosoya), a man she has never met. After the marriage is arranged, she moves to Kure, a town on the outskirts of the city, with Shusaku’s family. As the difficulties of living under war increase, official food rationing begins in Japan, and preparations for American air raids are well underway. A young housewife, Suzu takes charge of food distribution. Katabuchi (who also wrote the screenplay) clearly has the utmost respect and admiration for Suzu, and some of the film’s most touching moments detail her creativity in the kitchen, turning extremely limited rations into wholesome family meals. Much of the film is devoted to taking in Suzu’s experiences with her new life, which is filled with plenty of tender and humorous moments.
As the film is set in and around Hiroshima during the Second World War, it is safe to say that virtually everyone watching knows precisely what is coming. Katabuchi is clearly aware of this, and handles the situation well, using specific dates to create an air of suspense and foreboding. The specific date is frequently shown on screen, sometimes moving months ahead at a time, sometimes a single day. The somewhat unpredictable movement of time does a good job of keeping the horrors of the atomic bomb at bay, and allows the audience to prepare themselves for the horrors.
The threat comes thick and fast. Rations become minuscule, as hunger becomes part of normal living. Increasing amounts of time is spent in bomb shelters, and daily bombing feels like an inevitability for Suzu’s family and families like hers. Katabuchi retains a real emotional heft from the film by keeping the focus on Suzu, and her steadfast determination to provide and support herself and her family is nothing short of inspirational.
In This Corner of the World has a wonderful animation style, and warm, energising hues that dominate. The attention to detail is really impressive, with images of ships in the distant background rendered with remarkable precision. But it is the facial expressions that really command much of the emotion found within the film. Character designs are simply lovely, and along with some solid voice work, the characters really come to life.
Katabuchi’s film is a tender, often heartwarming account of a young woman’s perseverance during war time. The film scatters hints of melancholy throughout, but takes a tremendously dark turn towards the end (which should come as no surprise to anyone watching). Much of the climax is heartbreaking, and the warm colours dissipate in the wake of horror. The film’s ability to create laughter as well as tears is impressive, and the darkest moments are handled with great care and respect.
The film is not perfect: running at just over two hours, quite a few scenes could be cut and the overall effect could retain its power. Additionally, some of the tonal shifts are too jarring. However, the film is a tremendously worthwhile experience. There is so much value to be found with beautiful animation, a touching story, and a compelling portrait of a female lead; the film is extremely evocative. This is must see-cinema.
In This Corner of the World is released on 28 June across the UK. Don’t miss out!