IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD, animated drama, rated PG-13, in Japanese with subtitles, The Screen,
When a film opens on a Japanese city near Hiroshima in the mid1940s, it’s clear that you are not necessarily in for a feel-good time at the movies. Don’t look away, however. In This Corner of the
uses the story’s built-in sense of impending death to reflect on life — and all of its small triumphs, overwhelming regrets, and dreams both failed and realized. The film it might draw the most comparisons to is 1988’s but it is not as relentlessly bleak as that masterpiece. It is sad, but that isn’t the same thing as depressing.
The story centers on a young woman named Suzu (voiced by Rena Nounen), who works cultivating seaweed for her grandmother’s business in coastal Japan while honing her talents as an artist. At age eighteen, she agrees with her family to marry a man she has not met (Yoshimasa Hosoya), and moves to Kure City, a naval port outside of Hiroshima. From there, she resigns herself to a domestic life during wartime, as tensions grow and rations shrink.
Under these circumstances, food plays a big part in the story. Many small sacrifices and joys are found in the preparation of food and the pursuit of a rare delicacy such as sugar. As is not uncommon in Japanese cinema, many scenes unfurl at the dining table. The movie even stops to walk viewers through a rice recipe that uses food rations and plants found growing by the side of the road.
Suzu complements her domestic tasks with a passion for art, drawing when she can and rendering watercolors of the landscapes around her. She is such a born artist that she even sees the evocative visual of the destruction when it begins to rain down on her city. Upon seeing the colors of the fire-bombing, her first instinct is to say, “I wish I had some paint,” before quickly correcting herself and wondering what she was thinking. Director Sunao Katabuchi likewise luxuriates in the visuals of the hand-drawn animation, beautifully rendering the widescreen vistas and evocative human gestures with equal aplomb, and drifting into abstract sketches at moments when the violence is so horrible that it seems to shatter reality.
Of course, the bomb does indeed drop by the end of the film, erasing any small quotidian concerns that Suzu has and most likely ever will have. It is awful, as one expects, but a depiction that feels necessary in our current climate. With the threat of nuclear warfare bubbling back up in the news, art that conveys the horror and implications of such weaponry and that urges us to seriously reflect on the use of it feels topical and critical once again.
Whether or not there is a market for this kind of film is a question less of subject matter than the medium itself — Japanese animation, particularly that which is aimed at adults, has historically been a difficult sell in the otherwise film-crazy city of Santa Fe. To deny oneself a certain kind of movie based on aesthetics is to deny yourself a certain kind of story — one that can be epic in scope yet also rooted in intimate domestic environments and small moments. It’s also a medium that can slip into abstract or impressionistic gestures when the story hits the limits of what strictly literal storytelling can reach — or when revisiting a major world event so horrible that words have always failed to describe it. — Robert Ker