‘In This Cor­ner of the World’

Los Angeles Times - - CALENDAR - KEN­NETH TU­RAN

An an­i­mated film about Ja­pan from 1933-46 is a low-key tri­umph.

“In This Cor­ner of the World” is as cozy as it sounds. Un­til it isn’t.

A prizewin­ner at the An­necy In­ter­na­tional An­i­mated Film Fes­ti­val, this Ja­panese fea­ture is a lowkey tri­umph, a sur­pris­ingly af­fect­ing epic of the ev­ery­day writ­ten and di­rected by Su­nao Katabuchi, a pro­tégé of Hayao Miyazaki who was an as­sis­tant di­rec­tor on the master’s “Kiki’s Delivery Ser­vice.”

Katabuchi has painstak­ingly made a dis­creet cel­e­bra­tion of the beauty and quiet poetry of or­di­nary life that all but im­per­cep­ti­bly changes into a tribute to the re­silience and sac­ri­fices of av­er­age Ja­panese peo­ple dur­ing World War II.

Ac­tu­ally, painstak­ing doesn’t say the half of it, as Katabuchi spent six years re­search­ing the de­tails of this story, and col­lected more than 4,000 pho­tos of both Hiroshima (whose cen­tral area was de­stroyed by 1945’s atomic blast) and ad­ja­cent Kure to en­sure he got the visual de­tails right.

Based on a manga by Fu­miyo Kouno, “Cor­ner of the World” is visu­ally evoca­tive, a metic­u­lously hand-drawn, al­most photo-re­al­is­tic tapestry that il­lu­mi­nates the magic in­her­ent in the most com­mon­place sit­u­a­tions.

Un­hur­ried yet in­volv­ing, it’s also a voy­age back in time to Ja­pan be­tween the years 1933 and 1946. It ca­su­ally im­merses us in a well-or­dered world where peo­ple looked out for each other even when a war no one had asked for com­pletely up­ended their lives.

The prime mover is Suzu (voiced by Rena Nounen), in­tro­duced as a shy girl who tells us “I’ve al­ways been a dreamer” right off the bat.

Some­one who sees ghosts in ev­ery­day life, Suzu is treated as nobody special by those around her, but we see things in her that oth­ers don’t.

Liv­ing near the wa­ter in Hiroshima, the child of a fam­ily that earns a liv­ing gath­er­ing and dry­ing sea­weed, Suzu grows up a fan­ta­sist who loves to draw but who is so poor that the gift of a new pen­cil from a boy she has a crush on is a ma­jor event.

Even in these early stages, the ev­ery­day na­ture of Suzu’s life is what in­ter­ests Katabuchi. We ac­com­pany the young girl as she prices var­i­ous can­dies, vis­its her grand­par­ents and the graves of her an­ces­tors and makes up sto­ries that make her younger sis­ter laugh.

Suzu is so in­volved in her own world that she is taken by sur­prise when Shusaku (Yoshi­masa Hosoya), a young man she doesn’t re­mem­ber meet­ing, asks for her hand in mar­riage. “I guess I’m be­com­ing an adult,” she says to her sis­ter be­fore ac­cept­ing his of­fer.

Suzu moves in with her hus­band’s fam­ily in Kore, where ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing Shusaku, works for the Im­pe­rial Navy. And though the mar­riage was ar­ranged, she and Shusaku grow deeply at­tached to each other.

An in­stinc­tively help­ful per­son, Suzu be­comes con­sumed by the day-to-day house­work in her new fam­ily home, end­less cook­ing and clean­ing we are shown in de­tail. Sim­i­larly, when Shusaku’s bossy sis­ter Keiko (Mi­nori Omi) moves in, Suzu takes it in her stride and forms a sweet bond with Keiko’s young daugh­ter, Harumi (Nat­suki In­aba.)

Every­thing in­ten­si­fies when the war and its pri­va­tions take over ev­ery­one’s lives, and Suzu has to cope with ex­treme ra­tioning, civil de­fense lec­tures and, in one se­quence that is both amus­ing and fright­en­ing, be­ing mis­taken for a po­ten­tial spy by of­fi­cious mil­i­tary po­lice.

“Our battle is to sur­vive with what­ever we have,” be­comes Suzu’s motto as she re­sorts to strat­a­gems like an an­cient samu­rai method for mak­ing rice last. This sense of what the home­front was like on the other side is fas­ci­nat­ing be­cause we so rarely see it.

When the war gets closer to home, when Amer­i­can bomb­ing be­comes in­creas­ingly fre­quent, the tone of “In This Cor­ner of the World” dark­ens, and Suzu and her fam­ily have their own per­sonal tragedies to deal with.

The Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bomb at­tack is of course de­picted, but it is typ­i­cal of Katabuchi’s visual gifts that it is not dealt with in an ex­pected way.

In its vi­su­al­iza­tion of a life that feels ex­cep­tional as well as or­di­nary, “In This Cor­ner of the World” draws us in with the beauty of its an­i­ma­tion and the speci­ficity of its de­tail.

Suzu’s story be­comes so deeply per­sonal that when an an­i­mated hand waves at the au­di­ence at the film’s con­clu­sion, we will feel like wav­ing back, like we would to a friend.

Images from Fac­tory Films

“IN THIS COR­NER OF THE WORLD” takes au­di­ences on a voy­age back in time to the world of Ja­pan be­tween the years 1933 and 1946.

SUMI (voiced by Megumi Han) chats with Shusaku (Yoshi­masa Hosoya) in a scene from an­i­mated film.

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