There is something surreal about the use of watercolours in animation. In This Corner of the World is a beautiful example of how they can bring a heart-wrenching story to life using soft edges and gentle colours. Following the life of a young Japanese woman from Hiroshima, In This Corner of the World captures the effort required to maintain everyday normalities in an increasingly volatile time-period – specifically in this film, the early 1940’s in the port city of Kure (just adjacent to Hiroshima). The location and date gives you a hint towards how the film will end, yet all the while you desperately hope that it won’t be too devastating.
I started watching with apprehension, not sure if I should allow myself to get too attached to any of the characters. And yet, scarcely five minutes in I am enraptured by a child called Suzu; her innocent nature and endearing personality brought perfectly to life through skillful animation. The film alludes to a bright future for her through her own drawings, stunning landscapes lovingly embellished by a child’s imagination, and that’s scary when you pause to remember the film’s setting.
The story is admittedly slow to develop, although I didn’t personally mind this. We make our way through snippets of Suzu’s childhood until we arrive at her late teens. A marriage proposal is offered, and Suzu finds herself in a new family in a new town. She has grown up a hopeless cook, seamstress, and general housekeeper and now finds herself in charge of a household. Her sister-in-law has married out and her new mother-in-law – kind as she might be – is bed-bound due to a leg injury. This is where the real body of the film begins. Throughout the remainder of the film, we get to see Suzu mature with the support of her new family and community. Her constant cheerfulness and occasional child-like episodes as she settles into her new life is heart-warming.
Although a seemingly simple plot, it is done exceptionally well to create an emotional film with very little actual screen time for the male characters. In this way the film producers have created a war film that is at its core not about war. Instead it is about the development of a young woman in the formative years of her adult life. Suzu’s growth is marked by how she deals with the set-backs of the times – such as rationing and air-raids – but the real story is how she keeps going, giving a very sombre historical period a bit of that child-like imagination we see at the start of the film. At times this film is very funny as well as relatable, despite being set in another country over seventy years ago.
What I found the most remarkable about this film is the historical accuracy. I was astonished to discover that the film’s detailed backgrounds were recreated through careful research of pre-atomic Hiroshima. With most records destroyed, the film developers interviewed survivors, and using their accounts created draft after draft until it was just right. Throughout the film, the characters refer to battleships that are staked out in the bay by name, each perfectly represented as to where those ships were historically. The timing of the air raids too, are historically accurate. As a result, In This Corner of the World is an incredible example of story-telling through visual arts, a film that is educational, emotional, and above all, highly enjoyable.
Score: 9 out of 10