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IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD is Beautiful Anime Film About Life in the Times of War (Review)

Sunao Katabuchi’s film In This Corner of the World is not a war movie. It’s also not necessarily an anti-war movie, though seeing how war affects innocent, regular people is certainly a good way to make that point. What In This Corner of the World is is a movie about how people try to get by and live their normal lives in the middle of a war, and how that becomes harder and harder as the battle nears them. It’s a beautiful slice of life that feels at once completely relatable and wholly alien, in the best possible way.

It follows a young woman named Suzu in the 1930s and 1940s–tracking from her adolescence, where she’s a dreamer who likes to sketch elaborate and detailed pictures of her surroundings, to her young adulthood, living away from home for the first time, with the family of her new husband, whom she barely knows. Though most of the movie takes place in the outskirts of Kure, Japan, near (but never at) a Japanese naval base, we’re constantly reminded that Suzu is from Hiroshima, and as the years and months tick closer to the inevitable, all we can do his hope Suzu doesn’t go home like she hopes to. But even staying in Kure, she meets the horrors of war head-on.

The thing I love about this story is that it doesn’t matter that we’re seeing a community of people during a war in which their country was the enemy of the U.S.; it’s about seeing people deal with the threat of bombardment at any given moment, and how they deal with it, going from fear to anger to annoyance at having to go to a bomb shelter several times a week, sometimes for hours and hours at a time. It could just as easily have been a story about people in London during the Blitz. The point is we’re seeing regular people doing their best not to lose what’s truly important to them during a time when it could have been so easy to do so.

Seeing this through the eyes of Suzu gives the story its wonderment and sense of beauty. She’s young–only 18 when she marries an acquaintance and moves away to live with his family–and she’s a dreamer who doesn’t seem ready for the responsibility of essentially taking care of her new husband but his parents and niece as well. His husband’s older sister, a widowed mother, does not like her much, probably for her naivety, but the woman’s young daughter gets along with Suzu just fine. She’s more like a child than a grown up, and sees the world in a much more innocent light, until she’s forced to see that it’s not innocent at all.

One of the best moments in the entire film comes when Suzu is tending a hillside garden when an Allied attack begins. Throughout the beginning of the film, we see just how close everyone is to a naval base, but it’s mostly just background detail until this moment, when the bombs start exploding in midair. Rather than erupt in fear of the sudden explosions, Suzu pauses and with each puff of smoke, her mind’s eye sees a slash of paint. The viewer gets a look inside the mind of someone who processes new sights and sounds as something beautiful at first, even if the outcome turns out to be incredibly deadly.

Based on a manga series that ran from 2007 to 2009, the film translates author and artist’s Fumiyo Kōno’s sumptuous watercolor style to the screen with great impact. The press notes explained that Katabuchi and his team spent years researching how Kure and Hiroshima looked at the time, making sure every building, house on the hill, Japanese naval vessel in the harbor, and even road was historically accurate. Even though the characters are fictional, every single other thing that is shown on screen is absolutely authentic. It’s astonishing and it definitely feels like you’re witnessing a document of real events and how they affected real people in real places.

Some of In This Corner of the World is as tragic and heartbreaking as Grave of the Fireflies, but the overall tone of the film is much more bittersweet, and oddly hopeful. The family we follow aren’t “doomed,” but they are thoroughly changed by the war. There’s never a mention of politics but there’s an air of “what was all of this for if we’re just going to lose the war?” It’s about getting by in spite of war, and moving forward because of it. It’s a gorgeous, contemplative, and thoroughly moving piece of work.

4.5 out of 5 burritos

Images: Shout! Factory/Manga Entertainment

Kyle Anderson is the Associate Editor for Nerdist. He’s the writer of Studio Ghibli retrospectives Miyazaki Masterclass, Takahata Textbook, and Ghibli Bits. Follow him on Twitter!

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