On the fifth day of Christmas, my house’s lock gets frozen, and I can’t get in. Over the top cold days like this makes me fantasize about visiting a warmer place. Something where I can see the beauty of nature, a naval sea port, and do some farm work. You know, a far more simpler time than taking a blowtorch, and trying to melt a huge block of ice preventing me from opening my door. This got me to think about In This Corner of the World, and how it manages to convey the beauty of Hiroshima that I can’t recall anything else doing the same way. Funny what you’ll think about when melting ice.
Whenever I see a film depicting the city of Hiroshima in Japan. Often times it felt like an afterthought to tell some kind of anti-war story, or for the writer to vent out their frustration at the bombing of Hiroshima. I’m going to generalize why In This Corner of the World is so special as a drama, and a film about Hiroshima.
First up is the 2005 obscure anime movie Glass Rabbit (Glass no Usagi) which bares a bit of similarity too In This Corner of the World. Both focus on the family of the youth protagonist rather than a singular character. However, Glass Rabbit eventually becomes less about the family struggling through difficult times half through. Placing more importance on the message that war is bad. The reason I lacked any empathy towards the characters in Glass Rabbit is how it all felt artificial. I knew the good times where going to end eventually since the story is based in facts. Falling victim to expectations as the harsh times experience Toshiko (Glass Rabbit heroine) just kept piling on, and on.
It’s not like Glass Rabbit just tumble downward in the middle as the framing device is awkward. Toshiko granddaughter asks her mother where a glass rabbit came from, and tells her grandma life story. Not exactly riveting making this starting point unintentionally funny. There’s a mother telling her daughter the horror war when all her daughter asked about is where a glass rabbit came from.
Meanwhile In This Corner of the World, it starts out with Suzu doing her daily routine, and interacting with everyone in the city. Setting the atmosphere of a lovely town that is whimsical, and filled with beauty in Suzu eyes. Treating Hiroshima like a character of its own. Seeing it through different stages over the years. Changing alongside the characters as the city, and the people become torn up through the escalation of the war. Hiroshima isn’t simply a just a place where the story just happens to be in. It’s more like an extension of Suzu; maintaining a beautiful front front while being ravaged by US air raids for years.
If you were to watch both Glass Rabbit, and In This Corner of the World back to back it’s easy to see which one treats Hiroshima better. Glass Rabbit shows you a bit of it before the war, during the war, and briefly after the war. All this is expected in a film that tackles the bombing of Hiroshima so the checkbox development makes it detached from being emotional. I understand the sentiment of war is bad in this context, but a statement like that is meaningless without earnest emotion poured into it. Coming off disingenuous with the anti-war, love is peace message message.
The other film on Hiroshima I’ll compare it to is the even more obscure anime flick Beaten By Black Rain from 1984. Unlike the previous two movies, Beaten By Black Rain is more angry unleashing its pent up frustration. Being dreary, dark, and hateful in its themes. What makes this one difficult to criticize is even though it makes Americans cartoonishly evil. There’s a scene where a prostitute refuses to sleep with an American sex tourist because of the atomic bombings. The American than rapes her while screaming “America Strong! America always win!”. It does provide a different perspective on to view the aftermath of the bombing in Hiroshima. The hateful emotion feels real.
Where Beaten By Black Rain falls apart is simply drowning in its misery. It has a variety of characters some of which you’re meant to sympathize with, and other you’re clearly meant to dislike. The sympathetic ones only development is being unable to move past their own tragic incidents. Not exactly the kind of thing that’ll attract more viewers to check out the film. However, I feel that has more to do with the flat characters than the hateful intent in it.
In This Corner of the World takes a different of approach of having likable characters, and blind patriotism that changes over time. The characters have a lot more to them than simply being the victim of a greater force. This is best exemplified with how they developed the child character in their respective story. Beaten By Black Rain just hammers in the point a little kid has had a miserable life. There lies the problem of seeing, or not learning anything more about his life other than that. Making it feel like par for the course.
Contrast that with In This Corner of the World, Suzu takes care of a child, plays with her, and the viewer see a bond form. When living becomes more difficult we see Suzu struggle to make ends meet for the entire family. By understanding her struggle to remain optimistic during harsh times. It’s easier to sympathize with a child character who doesn’t grasp the entire situation at hand. It’s not just happy moments than darkness, but the progression in seeing their life take a turn for the worse.
I think the ending also contributes to why neither Beaten By Black Rain, and Glass Rabbit are remembered by many. In particular Beaten By Black Rain that was created by Keiji Nakazawa who did the manga to Barefoot Gen. Speaking of which, the film adaptation of Barefoot Gen came out in 1983, and Beaten By Black Rain came out a year later so that says a lot. Back on point, the lasting impression both of these movies leave is emptiness. Glass Rabbit feels like it was a soulless advertisement for world peace, and Beaten By Black Rain was just concentrated hatred not refine enough to turn into a good story. They just feel patronizing instead of hopeful like In This Corner of the Wolrd ends up being.
The approach taken by director Sunao Katabuchi is one of great understanding, and warmth. MAPPA went the extra mile bringing Hiroshima to animation in a new light. Striving for accuracy to the point a single shot needed to be modify 20 times. Along with the subtle characters there’s the immense of amount of work recreate a Hiroshima before the atomic bomb was dropped. Seeing it, and remembering it a light that made it special for those who lived during this time. Showing the beauty of Hiroshima the way Suzu sees it. Attaching more to it than just a single tragedy.
This probably won’t be the last time I write about In This Corner of the World since there was a cut half an hour longer set to be released next year. If that cut ever gets released you bet I’m covering it in some capacity. Who knows, it might bump that 9 I gave it into a 10 if the new material is that good.
Bringing us to the end of Day 5 in the 12 Days of Anime. In all honesty, I feel like this wasn’t very focus. I would be stupid to let this opportunity let me pass to express some more thoughts on a anime I found great. If you haven’t already, do go check out In This Corner of the World. It certainly was one the best animes I’ve seen this year, and I look forward to the longer cut. Sayonora, and see on day 6 which I also haven’t planned.