In This Corner of the World is a coming of age drama set in Hiroshima during World War II. Following Suzu Urano, an artistic, kind, supportive young woman who moves to Kure, a small town just outside Hiroshima as she struggles with the daily loss of life’s amenities she still has to maintain the will to live. What separates In This Corner of the World from other movies set within the same time frame like The Glass Rabbit (2005), and Struck By Black Rain (1984) is the depiction is broader in capturing the emotional state of its country, and its people. Unlike the two films I mentioned earlier, In This Corner of the World shows the happier times as well as the hardship of its characters eventually befalls. Detailing the lifestyle Japan once had before it permanently change through the course of world war 2. Providing an almost episodic structure for half of it run time to live through the wonderful times Suzu had early in her life. It’s during this portion of the movie the viewer will see Suzu adapting to new a home over the span of a couple of months, and eventually years. You get to witness the free spirit, and dreamer side of Suzu during her out of the blue marriage proposal.
With the realistic backdrop set during a turbulent time in Japan the film isn’t solely serious. Understanding in order to properly get across what eventually gets lost some fun is meant to be have. Injecting humor into the film before eventually cutting it off during a certain point in the story. Besides using the humor to loosen some tension. Humor is also used to characterize Suzu. Showing the audience how her mindset contrast against reality, and family members at certain points in the story. It’s also through humor that many of the character dynamics shine through displaying the strength this family has. The family interaction with each other feels natural, and certain family members develop makes them much more sympathetic, even a character who gives Suzu a hard time through a good chunk of the story. What this balance also avoids is the pitfall of tonal whiplash. It does so by ensuring the humor isn’t taking the spotlight away from the story, nor drawing too much attention to itself. Making the eventual absent feel subtle as a narrative device instead of a issue in balancing tone.
When the second half kicks in, you know the drill if you’re familiar with these type of movies. Instead of putting you in the middle of the chaotic nation during war time, the film takes it time to slowly establish the new normality of this new lifestyle. Empathizing the difficulty in obtaining simple rations, bombing drill being more common, learning about explosives, and everything surrounding the war finding it difficult to remain calm in hectic times. Just like in the first half, the film chooses to wisely not over dramatize this portion of the story. Keeping it subtle touches that help make the second half as great as it becomes. Getting across the essence of struggle, and lost in a way that feels true to life. It is through this second half where it attempts to get viewers in the heart strings; showing hardship, after hardship, after hardship, and its characters struggling to keep it together. Suzu being the focal point of the movie greatly shows the impact living during war times had on Suzu herself, and the strain it puts on her family.
What movies of this nature usually forget is no one wants to be see force a message about the horror of wars, or the fake enthusiasm about a brighter future that awaits beyond harsh times. In This Corner of the World knows it doesn’t have to tell any of this to the viewer. Sure, the film is positive about moving forward without sugarcoating the harsh realities the characters face. Hearing Suzu speak about how she would have preferred to die as a dreamer one point in the movie carries a more impact to itself when Suzu, along with several other characters, are so nicely fleshed out, and grounded in its depiction of its events. Without being created for the sole purpose to deliver a specific message it’s able to tackle many themes leaving a stronger impression.
While they are present, the shortcomings don’t take away from the overall narrative. From a writing perspective, Suzu isn’t shown interacting much with her own family. Suzu does form bonds with her husband family, and that is shown throughout the movie, but when it comes to her own family they don’t get the same luxury. It’s not bothersome at first, but overtime it becomes more noticeable when certain characters are not given enough screen time given the impact of they have. One of this includes an abrupt revelation of the death of a family member from Suzu side who wasn’t on screen for much time. It would be less noticeable if there weren’t a funeral scene, and another scene dedicated to that character. There’s also a few other non-family related characters who appear in the movie without much importance. Thankfully, the movie keeps those type of characters down to a minimum.
Director Sunao Katabuchi (Black Lagoon, Princess Arete) helms the project, and the animation is handled by studio MAPPA (Terror In Resonance, Yuri!!! On Ice). In the hands of Sunao Katabuchi the story is told with minimal usage of music. A wise choice that served this movie well allowing the strength of the visual themselves convey the mood of a scene instead of the music. Katabuchi grounded approach to storytelling is what the movie needed; without resorting to over dramatizing anything the film plays out better. Same with his handling of characters which never feel to out of place within the story. Another welcome departure is he doesn’t demonize the US during this time not because he doesn’t harbor any ill will, but because he’s more concern in the characters we see rather than the enemy you don’t.
The artstyle is reminiscences of water color drawing that Suzu is seen drawing many times in the movie. Studio MAPPA is able to capture Suzu’s personal art style, and apply it to the entire film. Perfectly getting across how she sees the world as it unfold. Backgrounds generally are colorful while being pleasant to the eyes. Character designs are surprisingly in the moe category. However, not to a point where the simplistic designs clashes with the tone of the story. If anything, in its own way, it continues the notion of Suzu being able to see beautiful things around her despite how ugly the world can be to her. Aesthetically, it’s one nice movie to look at, especially it’s extensive recreation of Hiroshima, and Kure. In movement, there’s nothing special about it since virtually everything is kept mundane, but given what type of movie it is the animation is fine the way it is.
When it come to voice acting you can’t go wrong with either. The Japanese cast are more expressive in a way when delivering their dialogue while the English dub cast is more subdue in their performances. Both approach work in favor of the movie. If you had to choose, probably go with the subs since you’ll get the Japanese songs translated, but that’s honestly the only factor. I would say the Japanese audio is more historically accurate. However, it’s fictional story based around some true events so the language you watch it in won’t matter. Performance wise, Japan gets that win for Rena Nounen who voices Suzu. Much like actor Koji Yakusho in The Boy, and the Beast, Rena Nounen primarily acts in live action films, and television series. Her experience in those field helped be able to carry the movie with ease. Delivering a powerful performance. Laura Post in the English dub voice Suzu, and he’s not as good. Her lack of experience in the leading role shows a bit in some of her inability to express Suzu emotion. Sometime coming off distill in her portrayal. Aside from that small complaint, Laura Post does a good job still.
In This Corner of the World is a captivating drama being both optimistic through it’s perseverance while never hiding from the harsher side of reality. It’s a coming of age drama whose subtlety in its storytelling leads to a dramatically rich experience. All without the any of the usual tricks films of this sort would rely on. The slow pacing, and uneventful structure of the movie will make it a tough watch for some viewers. Harsh as the world presented may be to the Suzu, and her family, you’ll come out of the movie with a positive experience.