One of a trilogy of Anime films in recent memory that have come to cinema, soon to be a quad trilogy with the release of The Boy and the Beast today. It really feels as though Anime is being taken seriously since it is now coming to mainstream cinemas. I think it’s down to the success of Your Name, it proved that there is a large audience for it and of course more people are exposed to Anime now thanks to Crunchyroll and other streaming sites.
In this Corner of the World is an Anime that I am surprised hasn’t been made sooner. It’s mainly because, well, put it this way, when a Manga gets turned into an Anime it’s often not long till after the Manga has become successful, five years at a maximum. So why the hell would this take so long. The Manga, that was written by Fuyo Kono, came out in 2008 and this one didn’t hit Japanese cinemas until 2016, that’s a full eight years, though I think it’s mainly down to the fact that many studios around that time would probably not have had a Studio Ghibli sized budget to make top world class animation. Studio Mappa handed the writing and directing job to Sunao Katabuchi, who most famously wrote and directed Black Lagoon, which in my mind makes him a rather odd choice to do a World War 2 drama of all things and that’s not a knock against Black Lagoon.
Now I went into this film knowing virtually nothing about it, I had only seen one trailer when I went to see the previously reviewed A Silent Voice, but nevertheless I got my tickets and myself together with Renn Bromiley, and we went down to give our thoughts on the film, so we were going into this film as blind as possible. We hadn’t really researched the film, all we knew was that it was an Anime in a cinema and we wanted to see it.
The plot description of In This Corner of the World is going to be a rather short one since it’s very hard to talk about for the type of story that it wants to tell and it doesn’t entirely follow a basic three act structure, though that is still in place It’s the story of Suzu (played by Rena Nounen) showing her life between the mid 1930’s up until early 1946. It shows her as she leaves her family and her homeland after marrying at th age of nineteen and moving in with her husband and in-laws and her struggles to make a new life and a new family, as well as her experiences living and in certain senses surviving the 2nd World War during American air raids and trying to keep connected with her family back in Hiroshima. Just from that conversation alone, anyone with a basic knowledge of World War 2 can tell one of the subject matters that is going to be in this movie. The film is not at all subtle about it, it is sign posted in virtually every direction. However, how it is handled is another story, but I will be coming back to that later.
In This Corner of the World attempts to be a slice of life story of our main character and in a sense is a character study about somebody, who to all intents and purposes is very, very ordinary. Yes, Suzu is not exactly an extraordinary person, she is just a person, but she is a nice likeable person and in some sense kind of an interesting person to be around as a result, we see her life and her struggles, but what makes her as a character is the fact that she is trying to stay positive, no matter what. Even as Japan moves into it’s stages of rationing and building bomb shelters and of course the brilliant senses of her coming to terms with the various stages of her life. She never mopes in the corner or gives up, it’s just a case of, she just wants to get on with her day and be the best person that she can be and that’s what makes her an endearing character. In a film like this, you really need great characters that you want to be around and enjoy, because if not much is actually happening, you want to at least find something to be happy about, you at least want to be in the company of people. A good slice of life story is essentialy like being on holiday with a group of peoples. You are going to be doing it for quite a while, you are stuck with them so let’s hope that they are at least interesting and have some good stories to tell. A lot of Anime writers are good at this and In This Corner of the World succeeds. It’s something a lot of western writers and directors seem to be struggling with and especially Richard Linklater, who while I think has the capabilities of doing a good slice of life story hasn’t succeeded yet, with the rather overrated but very well made and interesting project Boyhood, and especially badly in the rather dull and kind of annoying Everybody Wants Some.
In This Corner of the World, however, has a brilliant cast of characters, we take a while to get to know them and initially we are darting around quite a few since the family dynamic changes rather drastically and the cast doesn’t really stay permanent until after Suzu’s wedding. This cast is the best part of the film. We get a lot of the same effect with these characters, even though we don’t dive into them as much as Suzu. The 2nd World War backdrop is kind of a good way to explore them since it’s what is arguably Japan’s darkest period and it only got worse as time went on with the American retaliation after Pearl Harbour. Funny enough, despite the fact that Hiroshima is mentioned in this film, there is no actual mention of Pearl Harbour, though I have found depictions of the 2nd World War done by the Japanese rather fascinating as it does kind of remind you, at the end of the day, that there were people on the ground and it wasn’t just soldiers being killed, it was just families, including women and children. Japan has a certain fascination with World War 2 and I think it’s down to the fact that not only was it their darkest period, it’s also the period where they lost so much and the fact that they then lost the War, meant that all that loss and all the sacrifices made, were pretty much meaningless, but at the same time, from a western perspective, in hindsight, maybe it’s a necessary loss because the situation would have certainly been worse had the Japanese succeeded. Films like this can really put us in a real catch 22 and In This Corner of the World succeeds, but it doesn’t try to be ultra-political. Japan has always had this pacifical nature to it, it doesn’t really want war, hence why it hasn’t taken part in many conflicts for several decades. The film doesn’t portray the military very well, something that is a common theme in Anime. It’s actually really dam good in that sense, it doesn’t have a message, it just has ga story. Many people listening to my description will probably think it sounds an awful lot like Studio Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies, a film directed by Iso Takahata. I really would not want to compare the film since I am actually one of the people who doesn’t like Grave of the Fireflies for rather the same reasons that Bennett the Sage doesn’t. Not to try and tread on a few toes since I know a lot of people who like those films, so I am just going to leave a link to his review of that at the bottom of this review. But, needless to say, he has what might be considered a controversial opinion of the film, which I share. Personally, I didn’t feel like this film was controversial I actually felt myself enjoying this film. You feel the characters emotions and it works incredibly well in that sense. It reminded me why I like slice of life stories that much, it’s nice to be in the company of people you enjoy.
If there is one thing I will say, however, the film runs quite a bit longer than I was expecting. It is running at the same pace as Studo Ghibli films, it comes in at 2hrs and 8mins and while I did think it used that time pretty well, may be a few scene could have been cut for time, there are certain scenes that don’t really go anywhere. That being said, however, that’s really the only minor nit pick I am going to have. I have another one, but I will talk about that in a bit. It’s a really wonderful slice of life story, with some excellent characters and some very well written dialogue. I will say, however, if you are not used to these type of stories, I wouldn’t recommend you go into this as your first one, I would say a couple of other movies prior to doing that. Off the top of my head I would recommend Whispers of the Heart in that sense, which had a very similar story structure, but a much more lighter theme.
As for the acting, it’s all pretty dam good. I saw the film in it’s original Japanese with sub title and I am very very doubtful the film with receive any form of dub. The cast, however, it really fantastic and all of them are worthy of praise, though I do think the stand out performance by far is Rena Nounen as Suzu, she delivers a fantastic performance.
As for the art style, the animation is fantastic in this film. Suzu is an aspiring painter and sketcher and the film reflects that rather well. It has some very interesting transitions to show air raids where using charcoal and paint as well as several other scenes that get similar treatment. This is some beautiful work. It reminds me very similarly to the art style of the Tales of Princess Kaguya, however, with that one where it was trying to depict a children’s fairy tale or a book, this one is more designed to depict something akin to an acrylic painting. For the most part, it really dam works. I did at a couple of times think that may be this style doesn’t really suit the rather adult story that the film is trying to tell, however, for the most part I think it actually succeeds and I am aware that they would have been bound to the art style of the Munga.
If there’s one thing I really liked about this film, it’s the well, it was just fun to watch. Fun is the wrong word, I would say it’s a real interesting experience. In this Corner of the World is a very well done character study and slice of life story, it just happens to b depicted in the backdrop of a rather difficult time for Japan. It is certainly interesting to see World War 2 from another perspective, I really enjoyed watching it because it feels like a film that has been made with a clear purpose and a clear story in mind. I enjoyed the characters, I enjoyed the setting and the animation and art style is absolutely gorgeous. It is definitely one to check out. However, despite my praise I would still say I preferred both Your name and A Silent Voice to this film and I would even recommend, if you have the choice to go and see The Boy and the Beast, which has come out today.
Well that’s me done for the week. Myself and Renn have had a good time watching this one, so we will be back next Friday, where we will be giving our thoughts on the latest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Spiderman The Homecoming.
Thanks a lot for reading my review, I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as we have enjoyed writing it and man was this what I needed after Transformers.
Calvin – Nerd Consultant
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