In This Corner Of The World Review
In This Corner of the World (2017) Film Review from the 23rd Annual Los Angeles Film Festival, a movie directed by Sunao Katabuchi, starring Non, Megumi Han, Yoshimasa Hosoya, Natsuki Inaba, Nanase Iwai, Minori Omi, Daisuke Ono, Tengai Shibuya, Mayumi Shintani, and Shigeru Ushiyama.
Rightly or wrongly, animation isn’t commonly regarded as the film genre of choice to tackle war even though there is a rich history of animated films and cartoons that focus on the subject. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a major studio in the US today giving the green light to an animated movie that deals with the topic but things are much different in Japan, where Sunao Katabuchi’s In This Corner of the World has become the latest entry in that nation’s storied canon of animation featuring or otherwise involving warfare.
Set over the course of several months in the last years of World War Two, the movie chronicles the mundane adventures of Suzu (Non), a shy girl from a working-class Hiroshima family who marries young sailor Shusaku (Yoshimasa Hosoya) and moves in with his comparatively well-off family. Eschewing an overarching narrative for the most part, Corner chooses a loosely-episodic approach that allows us to see different events in Suzu and her new family’s life. This has the effect of depriving the film of any lasting sense of momentum as tension comes and goes due to the narrative’s constant hopping around, but the little stories it does tell are amusing enough as they are.
Many of these episodes are delightfully humorous, with the funniest being when military police grill Suzu over sketching naval vessels and the family bursts into laughter after at the implausible thought that she could be a spy. As the rest of her family hollers in hysteria, Shusaku’s little sister Harumi (Natsuki Inaba) says she doesn’t understand what just happened but decides to laugh anyway, further compounding Suzu’s embarrassment. Funny, light-hearted scenes like this are the real strength of the movie, with them playing against the darker elements of war and death that slowly assert themselves to the foreground of the picture as the conflict drags on and the disruption to Suzu’s family’s daily routines as well as the threat to their lives increases.
As tempting as it may be to compare the film’s treatment of the war to Studio Ghibli’s classic Grave of the Fireflies (and not without good reason), a more accurate comparison might be The Last War, a live-action film from The Toho Company detailing the life and activities of a middle-class Japanese family in the months leading up to a cataclysmic third world war. The stakes and tone are obviously much less grim than that of the Toho drama, but that’s because Katabuchi’s film has the added problem of balancing its grown-up setting with its desire to remain accessible to young viewers.
The family friendly, My Neighbor Totoro-esque imagery of Suzu and Harumi following a trail of sugar-seeking ants contrasts with the decidedly un-family friendly, very Grave sight of a dying Hiroshima mother turning into a worm-ridden corpse as her daughter waits innocently beside her, just to give one example of the incongruity. While the movie’s two tones don’t mesh perfectly, it’s a charming enough picture that you respect the effort it put into doing so.
In This Corner of the World won’t make you cry like Graveyard of the Fireflies or leave you in awe like Akira, but it has a pleasantness to it that makes you forgive any of its shortcomings and want to watch it again on a lazy, peaceful day.
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