Tag Archives: Sunao Katabuchi

Day 5: Breathing Life Into Hiroshima In This Corner of the World

On the fifth day of Christmas, my house’s lock gets frozen, and I can’t get in. Over the top cold days like this makes me fantasize about visiting a warmer place. Something where I can see the beauty of nature, a naval sea port, and do some farm work. You know, a far more simpler time than taking a blowtorch, and trying to melt a huge block of ice preventing me from opening my door. This got me to think about In This Corner of the World, and how it manages to convey the beauty of Hiroshima that I can’t recall anything else doing the same way. Funny what you’ll think about when melting ice.

Whenever I see a film depicting the city of Hiroshima in Japan. Often times it felt like an afterthought to tell some kind of anti-war story, or for the writer to vent out their frustration at the bombing of Hiroshima. I’m going to generalize why In This Corner of the World is so special as a drama, and a film about Hiroshima.

First up is the 2005 obscure anime movie Glass Rabbit (Glass no Usagi) which bares a bit of similarity too In This Corner of the World. Both focus on the family of the youth protagonist rather than a singular character. However, Glass Rabbit eventually becomes less about the family struggling through difficult times half through. Placing more importance on the message that war is bad. The reason I lacked any empathy towards the characters in Glass Rabbit is how it all felt artificial. I knew the good times where going to end eventually since the story is based in facts. Falling victim to expectations as the harsh times experience Toshiko (Glass Rabbit heroine) just kept piling on, and on.

Those foreheads are another tragedy.

It’s not like Glass Rabbit just tumble downward in the middle as the framing device is awkward. Toshiko granddaughter asks her mother where a glass rabbit came from, and tells her grandma life story. Not exactly riveting making this starting point unintentionally funny. There’s a mother telling her daughter the horror war when all her daughter asked about is where a glass rabbit came from.

Meanwhile In This Corner of the World, it starts out with Suzu doing her daily routine, and interacting with everyone in the city. Setting the atmosphere of a lovely town that is whimsical, and filled with beauty in Suzu eyes. Treating Hiroshima like a character of its own. Seeing it through different stages over the years. Changing alongside the characters as the city, and the people become torn up through the escalation of the war. Hiroshima isn’t simply a just a place where the story just happens to be in. It’s more like an extension of Suzu; maintaining a beautiful front front while being ravaged by US air raids for years.

MAPPA animation helps make Hiroshima beautiful too.

If you were to watch both Glass Rabbit, and In This Corner of the World back to back it’s easy to see which one treats Hiroshima better. Glass Rabbit shows you a bit of it before the war, during the war, and briefly after the war. All this is expected in a film that tackles the bombing of Hiroshima so the checkbox development makes it detached from being emotional. I understand the sentiment of war is bad in this context, but a statement like that is meaningless without earnest emotion poured into it. Coming off disingenuous with the anti-war, love is peace message message.

The other film on Hiroshima I’ll compare it to is the even more obscure anime flick Beaten By Black Rain from 1984. Unlike the previous two movies, Beaten By Black Rain is more angry unleashing its pent up frustration. Being dreary, dark, and hateful in its themes. What makes this one difficult to criticize is even though it makes Americans cartoonishly evil. There’s a scene where a prostitute refuses to sleep with an American sex tourist because of the atomic bombings. The American than rapes her while screaming “America Strong! America always win!”. It does provide a different perspective on to view the aftermath of the bombing in Hiroshima. The hateful emotion feels real.

Give it credit, it does have black rain

Where Beaten By Black Rain falls apart is simply drowning in its misery. It has a variety of characters some of which you’re meant to sympathize with, and other you’re clearly meant to dislike. The sympathetic ones only development is being unable to move past their own tragic incidents. Not exactly the kind of thing that’ll attract more viewers to check out the film. However, I feel that has more to do with the flat characters than the hateful intent in it.

In This Corner of the World takes a different of approach of having likable characters, and blind patriotism that changes over time. The characters have a lot more to them than simply being the victim of a greater force. This is best exemplified with how they developed the child character in their respective story. Beaten By Black Rain just hammers in the point a little kid has had a miserable life. There lies the problem of seeing, or not learning anything more about his life other than that. Making it feel like par for the course.

U0sgRQh-1Contrast that with In This Corner of the World, Suzu takes care of a child, plays with her, and the viewer see a bond form. When living becomes more difficult we see Suzu struggle to make ends meet for the entire family. By understanding her struggle to remain optimistic during harsh times. It’s easier to sympathize with a child character who doesn’t grasp the entire situation at hand. It’s not just happy moments than darkness, but the progression in seeing their life take a turn for the worse.

I think the ending also contributes to why neither Beaten By Black Rain, and Glass Rabbit are remembered by many. In particular Beaten By Black Rain that was created by Keiji Nakazawa who did the manga to Barefoot Gen. Speaking of which, the film adaptation of Barefoot Gen came out in 1983, and Beaten By Black Rain came out a year later so that says a lot. Back on point, the lasting impression both of these movies leave is emptiness. Glass Rabbit feels like it was a soulless advertisement for world peace, and Beaten By Black Rain was just concentrated hatred not refine enough to turn into a good story. They just feel patronizing instead of hopeful like In This Corner of the Wolrd ends up being.

The approach taken by director Sunao Katabuchi is one of great understanding, and warmth. MAPPA went the extra mile bringing Hiroshima to animation in a new light. Striving for accuracy to the point a single shot needed to be modify 20 times. Along with the subtle characters there’s the immense of amount of work recreate a Hiroshima before the atomic bomb was dropped. Seeing it, and remembering it a light that made it special for those who lived during this time. Showing the beauty of Hiroshima the way Suzu sees it. Attaching more to it than just a single tragedy.

This probably won’t be the last time I write about In This Corner of the World since there was a cut half an hour longer set to be released next year. If that cut ever gets released you bet I’m covering it in some capacity. Who knows, it might bump that 9 I gave it into a 10 if the new material is that good.

Bringing us to the end of Day 5 in the 12 Days of Anime. In all honesty, I feel like this wasn’t very focus. I would be stupid to let this opportunity let me pass to express some more thoughts on a anime I found great. If you haven’t already, do go check out In This Corner of the World. It certainly was one the best animes I’ve seen this year, and I look forward to the longer cut. Sayonora, and see on day 6 which I also haven’t planned.tumblr_ovmbte2Z4b1ui7oe1o1_500

Anime-Breakdown: In This Corner of the World (2017)

In This Corner of the World is a coming of age drama set in Hiroshima during World War II. Following Suzu Urano, an artistic, kind, supportive young woman who moves to Kure, a small town just outside Hiroshima as she struggles with the daily loss of life’s amenities she still has to maintain the will to live. What separates In This Corner of the World from other movies set within the same time frame like The Glass Rabbit (2005), and Struck By Black Rain (1984) is the depiction is broader in capturing the emotional state of its country, and its people. Unlike the two films I mentioned earlier, In This Corner of the World shows the happier times as well as the hardship of its characters eventually befalls. Detailing the lifestyle Japan once had before it permanently change through the course of world war 2. Providing an almost episodic structure for half of it run time to live through the wonderful times Suzu had early in her life. It’s during this portion of the movie the viewer will see Suzu adapting to new a home over the span of a couple of months, and eventually years. You get to witness the free spirit, and dreamer side of Suzu during her out of the blue marriage proposal.

With the realistic backdrop set during a turbulent time in Japan the film isn’t solely serious. Understanding in order to properly get across what eventually gets lost some fun is meant to be have. Injecting humor into the film before eventually cutting it off during a certain point in the story. Besides using the humor to loosen some tension. Humor is also used to characterize Suzu. Showing the audience how her mindset contrast against reality, and family members at certain points in the story. It’s also through humor that many of the character dynamics shine through displaying the strength this family has. The family interaction with each other feels natural, and certain family members develop makes them much more sympathetic, even a character who gives Suzu a hard time through a good chunk of the story. What this balance also avoids is the pitfall of tonal whiplash. It does so by ensuring the humor isn’t taking the spotlight away from the story, nor drawing too much attention to itself. Making the eventual absent feel subtle as a narrative device instead of a issue in balancing tone.

Besides being a nice looking movie. There’s plenty of good bonding moments like this throughout

When the second half kicks in, you know the drill if you’re familiar with these type of movies. Instead of putting you in the middle of the chaotic nation during war time, the film takes it time to slowly establish the new normality of this new lifestyle. Empathizing the difficulty in obtaining simple rations, bombing drill being more common, learning about explosives, and everything surrounding the war finding it difficult to remain calm in hectic times. Just like in the first half, the film chooses to wisely not over dramatize this portion of the story. Keeping it subtle touches that help make the second half as great as it becomes. Getting across the essence of struggle, and lost in a way that feels true to life. It is through this second half where it attempts to get viewers in the heart strings; showing hardship, after hardship, after hardship, and its characters struggling to keep it together. Suzu being the focal point of the movie greatly shows the impact living during war times had on Suzu herself, and the strain it puts on her family.

What movies of this nature usually forget is no one wants to be see force a message about the horror of wars, or the fake enthusiasm about a brighter future that awaits beyond harsh times. In This Corner of the World knows it doesn’t have to tell any of this to the viewer. Sure, the film is positive about moving forward without sugarcoating the harsh realities the characters face. Hearing Suzu speak about how she would have preferred to die as a dreamer one point in the movie carries a more impact to itself when Suzu, along with several other characters, are so nicely fleshed out, and grounded in its depiction of its events. Without being created for the sole purpose to deliver a specific message it’s able to tackle many themes leaving a stronger impression.

While they are present, the shortcomings don’t take away from the overall narrative. From a writing perspective, Suzu isn’t shown interacting much with her own family. Suzu does form bonds with her husband family, and that is shown throughout the movie, but when it comes to her own family they don’t get the same luxury. It’s not bothersome at first, but overtime it becomes more noticeable when certain characters are not given enough screen time given the impact of they have. One of this includes an abrupt revelation of the death of a family member from Suzu side who wasn’t on screen for much time. It would be less noticeable if there weren’t a funeral scene, and another scene dedicated to that character. There’s also a few other non-family related characters who appear in the movie without much importance. Thankfully, the movie keeps those type of characters down to a minimum.

Director Sunao Katabuchi (Black Lagoon, Princess Arete) helms the project, and the animation is handled by studio MAPPA (Terror In Resonance, Yuri!!! On Ice). In the hands of Sunao Katabuchi the story is told with minimal usage of music. A wise choice that served this movie well allowing the strength of the visual themselves convey the mood of a scene instead of the music. Katabuchi grounded approach to storytelling is what the movie needed; without resorting to over dramatizing anything the film plays out better. Same with his handling of characters which never feel to out of place within the story.  Another welcome departure is he doesn’t demonize the US during this time not because he doesn’t harbor any ill will, but because he’s more concern in the characters we see rather than the enemy you don’t.

Despite being a drama, the film offers some unique visuals like these

The artstyle is reminiscences of water color drawing that Suzu is seen drawing many times in the movie. Studio MAPPA is able to capture Suzu’s personal art style, and apply it to the entire film. Perfectly getting across how she sees the world as it unfold. Backgrounds generally are colorful while being pleasant to the eyes. Character designs are surprisingly in the moe category. However, not to a point where the simplistic designs clashes with the tone of the story. If anything, in its own way, it continues the notion of Suzu being able to see beautiful things around her despite how ugly the world can be to her. Aesthetically, it’s one nice movie to look at, especially it’s extensive recreation of Hiroshima, and Kure. In movement, there’s nothing special about it since virtually everything is kept mundane, but given what type of movie it is the animation is fine the way it is.

When it come to voice acting you can’t go wrong with either. The Japanese cast are more expressive in a way when delivering their dialogue while the English dub cast is more subdue in their performances. Both approach work in favor of the movie. If you had to choose, probably go with the subs since you’ll get the Japanese songs translated, but that’s honestly the only factor. I would say the Japanese audio is more historically accurate. However, it’s fictional story based around some true events so the language you watch it in won’t matter. Performance wise, Japan gets that win for Rena Nounen who voices Suzu. Much like actor Koji Yakusho in The Boy, and the Beast, Rena Nounen primarily acts in live action films, and television series. Her experience in those field helped be able to carry the movie with ease. Delivering a powerful performance. Laura Post in the English dub voice Suzu, and he’s not as good. Her lack of experience in the leading role shows a bit in some of her inability to express Suzu emotion. Sometime coming off distill in her portrayal. Aside from that small complaint, Laura Post does a good job still.

In This Corner of the World is a captivating drama being both optimistic through it’s perseverance while never hiding from the harsher side of reality. It’s a coming of age drama whose subtlety in its storytelling leads to a dramatically rich experience. All without the any of the usual tricks films of this sort would rely on. The slow pacing, and uneventful structure of the movie will make it a tough watch for some viewers. Harsh as the world presented may be to the Suzu, and her family, you’ll come out of the movie with a positive experience.

Rating: 9/10