Film Review: In This Corner of the World

In This Corner of the World is a wartime drama a little like Ghibli’s Grave Of The Fireflies, yet this goes one step further by taking place in and around Hiroshima in the years before and after the events of August 6, 1945.

As director Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli are so closely associated with Japanese animation (a.k.a. anime, ‘Japanime’ and other fan terms), you might assume that this filming of Fumiyo Kōno’s manga is one of their productions. In fact, it’s a mostly-crowd-funded epic from MAPPA co-adapted and directed by Sunao Katabuchi, with a distinctive, stylised look that could prove slightly distracting at first.

Suzu (voiced by Rena Nounen or ‘Non’) lives in the seaside town of Eba in Hiroshima City. Long, sometimes lyrical sequences show her life in the early years of the Second World War, as she works with her family in their nori (seaweed) business, demonstrates a skill for drawing, happily daydreams, observes the particular intricacies of her culture and religion, and does the things kids do. There’s hardly a glimmer of real darkness for more than an hour, with only odd fantasy interludes (as when she imagines being kidnapped by a monster-man, only to escape when he suddenly falls asleep), but there’s plenty of dread as we fear what is inevitably coming.

In 1944, when she’s 18, Suzu is proposed to by a young man she barely knows named Shūsaku (voiced by Todd Haberkorn), and she eventually joins his family in the naval port of Kure, 15 miles from Hiroshima, and there are warmly amusing scenes as she tries hard to fit in even as the Pacific War leads to food shortages and growing danger. Other highlights are funny but tinged with darkness (as when Suzu is nearly charged with espionage when she’s caught sketching the nearby warships, and Shūsaku’s relatives laugh at the idea). It’s a credit to the source manga and Katabuchi’s direction that she never feels like a victim, or runs the risk of saintliness when she helps her friends and neighbours find food and assists in the building of an air raid shelter.

Perhaps overlong at 130 minutes, this takes its time building to what we all know is going to happen. The depiction of the atomic bomb blast is surprisingly subtle as Suzu is far away enough to be safe, and her shock and sorrow when she realises that so many others weren’t so lucky is powerfully moving.

Somewhat lacking the gloss of a Ghibli film (some shots are still frames, while others pull back to show surely hand-coloured vistas, as if Suzu had drawn them), Katabuchi’s saga of course lacks the monstrous nature of so much manga, instead telling a very human — if still sweeping — tale with few traces of the fantastic. Furthermore, like so many stories set during so many wars, this one is all about families: the families that came before, the families lost, and the families still to come.

Rated M. In This Corner of the World is in cinemas now.

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