Mark Reviews Movies

In This Corner of the World


3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Sunao Katabuchi

Cast: The voices of Rena Nounen, Yoshimasa Hosoya, Megumi Han, Minori Omi, Natsuki Inaba, Mayumi Shintani, Shigeru Ushiyama, Daisuke Ono, Tsuyoshi Koyama, Masumi Tsuda, Hisako Kyouda, Nanase Iwai

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements including war-related images)

Running Time: 2:09

Release Date: 8/11/17 (limited); 8/18/17 (wider)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | August 17, 2017

The story begins in 1933. We know immediately that the setting is Japan, and as the story progresses, we learn that the more specific location is Hiroshima. Underneath the depiction of day-to-day life in wartime that makes up most of In This Corner of the World, there is a ticking clock, moving closer and closer to August 6, 1945. Once we realize where the story is set, there's a momentary sigh of relief, because we're 22 years out from the dropping of the first atomic bomb that killed between 90,000 and 146,000 people—most of them civilians. The first jump in the narrative's time brings the story closer to that event by years. Time keeps jumping here—faster and faster—until it's counting down by months, days, hours, and minutes.

What is, perhaps, most surprising about this tale of a young girl, who becomes a young woman in the matter of a single transition, living in and near Hiroshima, as the atomic age is about to born in horror, is how the story's ticking clock becomes irrelevant for a lengthy period. We know what will happen in a matter of years, months, and, later, days, but these characters do not. How could they anticipate the magnitude of death and destruction that would happen in a matter of seconds?

The film, based on a manga by Fumiyo Kono, is idyllic in its depiction of life just on the outskirts of the cities, where, for years, the worst conflicts involve familial strife, gossipy neighbors, and the battle between one's desires and one's responsibilities. Everything about this place is bright, lent a painterly beauty by director Sunao Katabuchi and his team of artists. The characters are drawn in the traditional manga fashion, giving them an inherent quality of innocence.

The girl at the center of the tale is Suzu (voice of Rena Nounen), an "absent-minded daydreamer" who loves to draw and invent stories about imaginary monsters, like a wolfish kidnapper of children or her older brother, whom she draws as an ogre. These are the quirks of not only a creative mind but also a mind that has little about which to worry.

At first, Most of the drama here is about her impending marriage. She's expected to marry—and soon—once she becomes 18. Her family doesn't quite push her, but they don't make any arguments against a quick marriage, either.

There's a suitor in Kure, a city that's a relatively short train ride from Suzu's hometown—just over a mountain that prevents her from seeing the place where she was born and raised. The wedding, at her new in-laws' home on a hill in the corner of the area outside Kure, is brief. The reception is nice. Her new husband Shusaku (voice of Yoshimasa Hosoya) seems to be a kind, if quiet, man a few years older than Suzu. He works at the military court in the city, so since her mother-in-law San (voice of Mayumi Shintani) has a bad leg, Suzu spends most of her day doing household chores for his—and, now, her—family.

Life moves slowly and with a certain repetition here. As the world becomes engulfed in war, the routine changes a bit, but it remains a routine. Like everyone else in and around the city, Suzu must get in line for rations. She is assigned to rationing duty every so often, where she makes a few friends. She cleans, cooks, maintains a garden, and tries to draw, although her passion and time for it fades as the war effort increases.

All of it is still tolerable enough that the only conflict arises when Shusaku's sister Keiko (voice of Minori Omi) arrives with her daughter Harumi (voice of Natsuki Inaba). Keiko is a widow, and she has decided to leave her husband's family, leaving behind a son who's the heir to that family, to take control of her own family's house.

The screenplay by Katabuchi and Chie Uratani lulls us into this routine and the family drama, almost to the point that we forget what is inevitably to come. After all, it seems that at least Suzu is safe from the impending doom of the bomb. Her family in Hiroshima is another story, although her younger sister Sumi (voice of Megumi Han) has fallen for a solider, who might take her from the city. There is an intentional tension in the way Suzu's antagonistic relationship with Keiko pushes her further from her new family. A few times, the story has Suzu considering a return to Hiroshima to escape the stressful relationship with her sister-in-law, and it appears that her lot will be a matter of fate.

Once the war on Japan begins, though, the narrative shifts drastically. Time passes more frequently and in shorter bursts—from months to days and even hours. Air raid sirens blare in the city, home to a naval port, and bombing runs become impossible to detect early or fend off once begun. Tragedy strikes again and again, with no foreseeable end in sight. The faster pacing, combined with the shorter intervals of time between scenes, provides both a sense of a new routine and one of Katabuchi avoiding the inevitable for as long as possible, lest history destroy these lives.

The film is somehow both comfortable and disquieting—haunting but hopeful—in its depiction of ordinary lives trapped in an unseen march toward a terrible event. In This Corner of the World ends, not with hatred or defeat, but with people rebuilding their lives with a simple act of love.

Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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