In This Corner of the World feels like a pair of movies spliced together. It first jumps through the 1930s and 40s, watching imaginative girl Suzu grow up, her artistic soul capturing the everyday wonder she sees in the world around her in a nostalgic rush of childhood innocence. Not long after she is married at eighteen and goes to live in the port city of Kure, the Second World War comes home to Japan and her creativity is put to different use as she takes on the responsibilities of spouse and adult, her youthful dreams making way for adult duties.
Despite similar thematic content of survival in wartime Japan, the film is nowhere near as emotionally crippling as Studio Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies (and let’s face it, what is?), but it nevertheless refuses to shy away from the grim tribulations faced by the people caught up in the destructive might of the faceless and unfeeling war machine.
As the war progresses life becomes increasingly harsh, first with rationing becoming ever more stringent and the undercurrent of paranoia gradually increasing (at one point Suzu is accused of spying by the military police after being caught sitting on a hillside idly sketching the battleships moored the city’s harbour). Then things take on a decidedly more frantic pace when the American air raids begin on Kure and the threat of bombardment remains omnipresent, along with the requirement to run to a shelter at a moment’s notice. The relentless onslaught is made all the more poignant by knowing full well the fate that awaits the nearby city of Hiroshima (also Suzu’s hometown where her family still live), and is made even more tense if you’re not sure of the exact date on which Oppenheimer’s nightmare was realised, so when the moment arrives it almost comes as a relief so you can stop dreading it.
Unlike most films set during wars, it takes no sides nor makes any statement of morality, since for civilians the larger issues of what exactly is being fought over remains mostly irrelevant. Even the Americans constantly bombing their city don’t exactly register as the enemy, or even as actual people. All the townsfolk see is the squadrons of bombers soaring overhead as the air raid sirens wail their interminable song heralding imminent destruction, and then the aftermath as they have to just pick up and carry on. It may not be the most dramatic of achievements, but Suzu’s quiet determination to not be run down by adversity and keep doing what little she can to aid her family in getting by makes her just as much a hero as anyone, her dauntless optimism an understated superpower.
Like one of Suzu’s artistic sketches, In This Corner of the World is a beautiful and compelling portrait of real life, and despite its harsh portrayal of the realities of war it’s a story in which hope remains paramount, where in one way or another the humanity of ordinary people will always prevail.
IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: SUNAO KATABUCHI / STARRING: NON, YOSHIMASA HOSOYA, NATSUKI INABA, MINORI OMI, DAISUKE ONO, MEGUMI HAN / RELEASE DATE: 28TH JUNE
Expected Rating: 7/10