In This Corner of the World takes on the Japanese experience of World War II through the eyes of Suzu (Rena Nounen, credited as Non), a slightly clumsy and absentminded housewife with a talent for drawing. She is married off at the age of eighteen, and she moves from her hometown of Hiroshima to the navy port of Kure to live with her husband’s family. The film then documents the next eighteen months, where Suzu tries her hardest to be a good wife and daughter-in-law while dealing with severe rationing, constant air raids, and the occasional tragedy brought on by the conflict. The film is about life during wartime, but it takes it all down to a strikingly personal scale. It hardly leaves the perspective of Suzu, who isn’t really concerned with the larger implications of the global conflict. To her, the war is a giant abstraction, just another thing that she cannot control in a life that hasn’t really offered her many opportunities. And so, the movie gives more detail to Suzu finding ways to stretch out the meager rations that she has access to, or to her strained relationship with her sister-in-law. And it does so with eyes and ears open for these small moments of levity and affection in a context that is inherently tragic. The thing about this story is that we know what’s coming. The specter of the atomic bomb looms large over the narrative. The main character is from Hiroshima, and there is just no escaping the tragedy lurking just around the corner. As a result, the film seems to actively fight against a sense of dread. These aren’t doomed characters. They are just ordinary people trying to make do, finding ways to keep their way of life going, even as the world melts around them. The sadness is already tacit, and so the film really finds its voice in crafting moments of grace, really making it clear what is going to be lost. The movie is able to create a context where even though the war literally hits close to home, it can still feel distant. Even as the air siren becomes a refrain around town, the focus remains on the much smaller dramas of Suzu and her family. And what we do see of the war is abstracted to the point of impressionism. The violence of the world becomes art through the film’s unique visual style, which has a graceful softness that eschews the clean lines of modern anime production. When things get really tough, it lets us see the world through Suzu’s artistic eyes, which turns waves in white rabbits, and explosions into bursts of color. The voice acting is good, and there are some nice pieces of music that help punctuate the tone of the story. There are a couple of technical issues that mar the experience, though. The English subtitles in the version being screened locally are pretty bad. They’re out of sync for most of the movie, and the translations are awkward at times. And it’s tough to tell if this is a projection issue or a problem with the copies of the film that have been sent out, but it all seems a little darker than it really ought to be. In This Corner of the World is a pretty remarkable film. It is deeply affecting in surprising ways, the movie managing to find new, artful perspectives on a period of time that has already been covered extensively in the history of cinema. With its odd, unique rhythms, distinct visual style, and penchant for finding gripping beauty in even the most horrible of circumstances, In This Corner of the World just needs to be seen. It is unfortunate, though, that the version they’re screening here doesn’t quite offer the best experience.
IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD IS NOW SHOWING IN SELECT CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.