If you have ever stood in front of the Genbaku Dome in Hiroshima, or at the epicentre of the blast in Nagasaki, then you’ll have felt that the atomic bombings are still a part of living history. It’s reflected in popular culture from Hiroshima mon amour, to Akira Kurosawsa’s Rhapsody in August, and the manga Barefoot Gen. So too is this film about those who lived in war.
Sunao Katabuchi’s IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD is based on the manga by Fumiyo Kōno, previously adapted into a live-action television special. Set in the 1930s and 1940s, it follows Suzu (voiced by Non), an innocent young women from Hiroshima who moves to nearby Kure when she marries. An enthusiastic sketch artist, we watch her innocence and lust for life ebb and sometimes fade as the realities of the war creep into her small town life.
While the film necessarily recalls Isao Takahata’s heartbreaking Grave of the Fireflies, there is a large tonal different to Katabuchi’s work. What we witness here instead is a slice-of-life film that’s often funny, and regularly observational, about life in a small town. Save for a few key intrusions, the war often seems far away, but forever impacting in minor ways. There are still some horrific sequences of violence, which very nearly break the character of Suzu completely, but like the rest of the film, life goes on. Even when the bomb is dropped on Hiroshima, it’s just another unusual occurrence for the people, at least until the aftermath became evident.
Katabuchi has worked as a director on Studio Ghibli’s Kiki’s Delivery Service, and more recently on the adaptation of Mai Mai Miracle for Madhouse. The long legacy of those two powerful animation houses are reflected in this aesthetically beautiful film, one that uses Suzu’s artist eye to give an impressionistic view of events. As bombs go off in the sky, for example, Suzu sees them as angry paint splashes that segue into Van Gogh’s abstractions of Starry Night.
The unrelenting march of time to the fateful 6 August deadline hangs over the film like a ticking clock. Despite this, pace is sometimes an issue from a script point of view, underlining the way of life in rural Japan but undercutting some of its impact. Nevertheless, IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD is a gorgeously drawn testament to the endurance of hope in adversity, and a timely reminder that even citizens who support state military actions can be the most damaged by its impact.