IN THIS COR­NER OF THE WORLD, an­i­mated drama, rated PG-13, in Ja­panese with sub­ti­tles, The Screen,

Pasatiempo - - MOVING IMAGES - World Grave of the Fire­flies,

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

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