AKA: Kono Sekai no Katasumi Ni, In This Corner of the World (2016)
Genre: Historical Drama
Year Released: 2016
Distributor: Shout! Factory/Funimation
Running Time: 129 minutes (regular version), 159 minutes (extended version)
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG-13
Related Films/Series: In This Corner of the World, In This Corner of the World (2018 TV remake)
For Fans Of: Grave of the Fireflies; Barefoot Gen; Miss Hokusai; From Up on Poppy Hill; Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms
-I viewed the Japanese language track of the regular version on Netflix.
-Spoilers are mentioned in this review. Read at your own peril.
-Check out Jeannette Jonic’s blog Fiction and Fantasy.
-O: Ospreyshire/Curtis and J: Jeannette Jonic
-In This Corner of the World is based on a manga by Fumiyo Kono who also created Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms, and it’s the first of her works to be animated. This is also an animated remake of a made-for-TV movie based on the same book.
-This film was actually able to exist because of crowdfunding and has a Japanese record of surpassing the 20 million yen goal. They raised 39 million yen. That’s roughly $354K+ US dollars.
-MAPPA was the studio behind In This Corner of the World. It was started by Madhouse founder and ex-animator Masao Maruyama. Notice how their logo sort of looks like his old company’s logo. They have also animated Kids on the Slope, the Ushio and Tora remake, and Dorohedoro.
-This was directed by Sunao Katabuchi who also directed the Black Lagoon series, the anime remake of Lassie, and Princess Arete. In addition to those works, he was an assistant director for Kiki’s Delivery Service.
-Besides Hiroshima, this film takes place in Kure. It’s a suburb of that city and has over 228,000 people living there currently. They are a sister city to Bremerton, WA (Yes, as in MxPx’s hometown for all you pop punk and old-school Tooth & Nail Records fans). Some famous people from Kure include the late J-pop singer/voice actress Miyu Matsuki (known for her work in Hayate the Combat Butler, Gash Bell/Zatch Bell, Shimoneta, Claymore, etc.), and singer Hitomi Shimatani. I also reviewed the work of someone else who was born there: Shinji Wada, who created Sukeban Deka, where I reviewed the anime remake.
-Shusaku was voiced by Yoshimasa Hosoya in the original Japanese version. He’s lent his talents to other anime such as One-Punch Man, Attack on Titan, and multiple Yu-Gi-Oh! Series.
O: 2020 will be the year of collabs on Iridium Eye. I was surprised by how quickly things have materialized with this particular goal. The first one of this year involved Scott from Mechanical Anime Review and I covering ComixWave’s Flavors of Youth. Next was Ashley from The Review Heap and I reviewing Satoshi Kon’s Tokyo Godfathers, which is probably one of my favorite remake movies in hindsight. This time, I have my author/reviewer friend Jeannette Jonic helping me out. What’s good, Jeannette?
J: Doing well, Ospreyshire! I hope I don’t offend our readers when I confess I watched the dub of this film! (Gasp. Scandalous.)
O: GASP! How could you, Jeannette? Hahaha!
J: I’m a rebel like that. Hee hee!
Overall, I have to say, I really enjoyed the film, and the dub was quite good. I had a lot of fun recognizing some lesser-sung dub actors I’ve heard before (including Laura Post, perhaps most known recently for her role as Catherine from Fire Emblem: Three Houses and Todd Haberkorn, voice of the intense but taciturn inspector Tosaki from AJIN: Demi-Human). Because the film plays out more like a memoir following our protagonist Suzu’s life, we do get a couple child actors and, bless their hearts, they do the best they can to varying degrees of success (though I have to add that the actress playing Suzu’s niece Harumi, Kenna Pickard, is absolutely fantastic and immediately endeared me to her character). At any rate, I’d rather have a real kid voice acting at an okay level than an adult trying way too hard to sound like a child!
O: Whew! At least it was a good dub though. I certainly don’t swear off dubs since I do like Shinesman and Yugo the Negotiator for example. Shoot, there are some anime projects that I like both language tracks for such as Haibane Renmei, Jungle Emperor Leo (1997), and Gankutsuou. Let’s get started by talking about this animated feature from Mappa.
J: Sounds great! Would you do the honors?
O: In This Corner of the World takes place in two parts of Hiroshima Prefecture, Japan during the 30’s and 40’s: Hiroshima proper and Kure City. The story revolves around a highly-imaginative girl named Suzu Urano who’s from Hiroshima. She spends her time with her family drawing, storytelling (often involving said drawings), and working at the family’s nori business. Once she turns eighteen, she is arranged to be married to named Shusaku Hojo, a naval officer who works a desk job at a military court. After the wedding, Suzu moves to her husband’s hometown of Kure. Things aren’t perfect despite them having a stable marriage: her frustrated sister-in-law Keiko gives Suzu grief, food and supplies are rationed, and air raid alerts get only more frequent over the years. How will this city girl adjust to WWII Japan in the countryside of Kure City?
J: How indeed! Let’s take a look at some of the things this film did well.
I think what I like most about this film is how every element is minimalistic—consciously understated.
Like its timeskips, for example, which are very subtle. The only thing to indicate the passage of time are characters subtly aging and brief splashes of text with the date that quickly fade away; on occasion, I found myself not even noticing the dates because I was so absorbed in watching Suzu’s life age and evolve. This leaves the film feeling more like a memoir than historical fiction.
The simple but unique art style emphasizes this minimalism too. The roundness of the characters is unlike any other anime film I’ve seen before. It’s an almost storybook-like art style, which simultaneously softens yet highlights the harsher realities of war this movie dives into near the end. In the same way, the simple character designs also allow the filmmakers to highlight other details that help tell the story and express the characters’ nuances: for instance, I adored how Suzu’s skin became more tan in the summer months and was more pale during winter.
Speaking of visuals, this film did an incredible job using that attention to detail through both its visuals and sound design to convey the atmosphere, tone, and setting/climate of the film. I could feel the beating sun as characters sighed and fanned themselves. I could feel the chill wind on a cold autumn day as it howled and the muted color palette settled on the screen.
Probably my favorite part of the visuals, however, was (spoilers ahead!) how the filmmakers portrayed the air raids that finally hit Suzu’s little village of Kure.
After multiple scenes of the family scrambling to their underground bunker to the tune of warning air raid sirens—and a medley of false alarms—we get a scene where Suzu dreams about an air raid taking place. It’s amazing how well the film captures how terrifying but also how weirdly dream-like and unnatural traumatizing events can be.
Shrapnel pops on the screen, making it seem like the film’s own painted backgrounds are getting torn apart by bullets. Planes fly overhead, and the clouds of dust and explosions are portrayed as watercolor-like splotches of paint puffing in the sky. It’s a beautiful and otherworldly experience that still manages to remain frightening and unnatural.
We learn only after the scene that this was all just Suzu dreaming, but the film knows how to signal when the real air raids come: no more watercolor splatters in the sky; no more paint. The clever and artistic visuals are gone when planes come to drop real bombs over Kure, reflecting the sobering reality of war.
Minimalism is all about knowing which details to maintain and highlight, and it’s this minimalistic focus that makes every element of this film—from its pacing to its art to its character portrayals—feel unique, cohesive, and quiet. I love that.
O: I feel bad saying this, but this was my first time seeing a MAPPA work. Watch as all the anibloggers flay me for my inexperience with newer anime studios. I will say that this studio delivered more often than not. Like you, I really enjoyed the watercolor palette and textures of this animation. I know it’s not new, and I’ve reviewed other works with similar coloration and textures such as Ernest & Celestine, Song of the Sea, or even The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, but this is still amazing. The dream sequences and the art correlations were creative, especially when one drawing turns the scene into something straight out of a Van Gogh painting for a few seconds.
J: The changes in art style were very cool. Osprey, you briefly mentioned Suzu’s drawings earlier—I have to go back to those for a second here too. I really loved how the film portrayed her sketches like that. Especially how they get more detailed and realistic as she ages.
O: While most of the scenes aren’t fully Sakuga, it’s a movie that doesn’t need extremely fluid animation to get the point across. I did notice that the art style was more simplistic, but I can see how this made the animation better. This was handled decently unlike Saikano where the male characters looked far older and the female characters looked younger than they should. At least In This Corner of the World avoided that unfortunate implication.
J: Yeah, I don’t think the story and characters would have been nearly as strong had it not been for the accurate portrayals of the characters’ ages. What else did you enjoy about the film?
O: The music was an intriguing choice. It did remind me a bit of the aforementioned Ernest & Celestine with the instrumentation, but it was effective. The lighter orchestral pieces were pleasant, and the ambient works were fine in their understatement. If this was John Williams or even Yuki Kajiura in the composer’s chair, it would’ve been overblown for a film like this.
J: Absolutely. You really want to make sure the characters shine.
O: And how WWII was handled was fascinating. Yes, comparisons to Grave of the Fireflies and Barefoot Gen (the latter more so since both deal with the atomic bombs) will be unavoidable, but In This Corner of the World isn’t a ripoff of those anime movies, so don’t expect me to go into film plagiarism mode here. There was that calmness that affects the characters in the first half of the film until more of those sirens go off. Rations get smaller over the years and actual planes show up. Much like Grave of the Fireflies, you never see any of the faces of the Allies in the planes, and most of the other people who antagonize Suzu are other Japanese people (mainly her sister-in-law Keiko). This was a good touch, as it showed the human nature of these noncombatants. Sure, you do see people in uniform here and there, but you rarely see them do anything military-related. That was great writing on the creator’s part. When the wartime elements do hit, you see the destruction, the violence is NEVER glamorized, and you see the ramifications of the attacks, which is better storytelling than many war-based movies that often make the violence and rampage look cool.
J: I found the way they handled the war to be really interesting as well. I was curious what your take would be on it as someone who had seen Grave of the Fireflies. I’ve got lots more to say on the way the war was handled, but I’ll save that for later. For now, I’ll just add that I thought Suzu’s attitude toward the Allied soldiers was really poignant.
O: I didn’t even think about Suzu’s attitude about the Allies, but that’s a great point about how she expressed those feelings. Moving on to Suzu and company…
J: As Osprey mentioned earlier, Suzu is introduced to us as a daydreamer. She’s an absolute sweetheart, and I found myself relating to her immensely: her daydreams, her indecisiveness, her satisfaction with following where life would take her. I especially empathized with the fact that so few people truly understood her. Her childhood crush, Mizuhara, returns to her life when they’re adults but continually comments on how “ordinary” she is, as if it’s a bad thing to lead a simple life. Her family and extended family constantly tease her for the dissociative episodes she suffers from and her struggle to remember things—none of which are any fault of her own.
They packed so much depth and subtlety into these characters, and they did so well capturing the uncomfortable nature of meeting a stranger but then slowly getting to know them and cherish them for the little things you learn about them. This was the case with many characters, but nowhere more than with Suzu and Shusaku’s quiet and slowly-growing love. I certainly connected most with her and with her sweet but quiet husband Shusaku; my heart absolutely dropped when Shusaku reveals he’s being pulled from his desk job at the naval base to be drafted into the military. Seeing Suzu vocally react in desperation, terrified at the thought of losing him, and then seeing her curl up to hold him just broke my heart.
O: I totally agree that Suzu was such a likable character. The way her imagination plays out in reality and her various daydreams was great. Even her helping out with rationing food and supplies alongside the other women was quite intriguing with how it was a pleasant team effort (despite WWII going on) before it becomes an all-hands-on-deck affair for everyone involved. That scene with the Military Police was intimidating at first until everyone else laughed it off except her. I could relate to that since there have been moments where I don’t find something funny despite everyone else laughing.
J: That’s not a good feeling!
O: Keiko was a character who I wanted to write off as some one-note in-law from hell antagonist, but even she had her reasons for acting the way she did. Yes, she is a pain at first, but she had her own hurts given what happened with her family and former business. She was so angry and projected that onto Suzu, but I was glad that she eventually grew out of her spite against the newest member of the Hojo family.
J: For a film to make me go from “ICK! Hate her! Bad sister-in-law!” to finding her charming and sweet is pretty impressive. She really won me over in the end.
O: In general, these characters felt like real people, which was a huge plus regardless if they were the main characters or supporting ones. I could believe a situation like this happened in 30’s and 40’s Japan. They acted very believable and human even though I was watching an animated piece with minimalist aesthetics and simplistic character designs. It also helped seeing the detail with the culture and how people responded in this wartime state. Them getting certain kinds of foods, Suzu briefly going into a black market of sorts with hyper-inflated prices, building bomb shelters near their homes, or even children (notably Harumi, Keiko’s daughter/Suzu’s niece) being able to differentiate between what types of warships and airplanes are around them in the area. That brings a morbid knowledge that someone such as the six-year-old Harumi could mention all the specifics just as much or even more so than memorizing times tables or the planets in the Milky Way.
J: Despite her having so much knowledge, as a child she can’t fully understand the implication of those sights she found so comforting in their familiarity. It’s a sobering thought.
One unique element of the film I didn’t care much for was its attempt to get the viewer to feel as if they were dissociating alongside Suzu. Suzu is a dreamer, but she also suffers from dissociative episodes and fantasizing. Especially as a child, Suzu sometimes has trouble differentiating reality from her imagination, which makes for a charming character, but it’s far less charming when the film tries to imitate it. The jarring way the film would portray an event as actually happening only to yank back the curtain and say “It was all a dream!” created some serious points of confusion for me. For instance, I was on the edge of my seat during the entire end scene—not out of enraptured suspense, but out of fear this film had taken a cruel “The good ending you thought you were getting was only a dream” twist!
While I appreciated the filmmakers’ ability to blur the lines of fiction and reality with this untrustworthy narrator (Suzu), it made the story difficult to follow at certain points of the film—such as during the final scene or when Suzu dreams about the air raids.
O: Yeah, some of the dream/reality aspects got way too confusing, especially during the end. Most of the time, I didn’t have an issue with it because I could tell what was going on and the animation to match her vivid imagination worked very well. Some of the daydreams got way out of hand though, like the monster returning at the end who apparently marries a crocodile of all things. That was a big sack of no, and I don’t need to be reminded of a certain Quack Pack episode (if anyone doesn’t know what I’m referring to, then consider yourself lucky for avoiding that 90’s Disney cartoon) or an unrelated element involving the most inappropriate scene/piece of dialogue in the otherwise G-rated Eleanor’s Secret.
J: As much as I like dream sequences, I don’t enjoy when I can’t tell what actually happened in a film.
O: In the Japanese version, I also found that Suzu’s voice threw me off at the beginning. She has the same voice as a child as she does as an adult, so she sounded way too old unless it involved her growing up or her narrations. It’s a shame, because there was good voice acting in the Japanese version, but her voice actress could’ve at least talked in a higher-pitched voice during the childhood scenes, or the filmmakers could have gotten a child actor to cover the beginning of the movie.
J: That’s interesting, because the English dub had a problem with the beginning scene as well. Due to some lackluster lip syncing, I found myself confused between what was voiceover from the (older and wiser) Suzu of the future and her younger counterpart speaking during the current events.
One additional problem I had was that I felt the film shifted tone without proper warning. Though I was aware this movie took place during WWII, the majority of the film is spent in absolute calm. As you mentioned earlier, Osprey, the film focuses a great deal on how the war affects people in indirect ways through food rations and shortages, leading me to believe this was all the film was going to focus on. There seems to be no indication beyond specific dates quickly and quietly splashing across the screen to indicate that the tone of the film is about to take a drastically dark turn (which, for someone who’s bad with dates and historical details like me, was not enough foreshadowing to soften the blow). The film feels like it goes from the protagonist cheerfully figuring out how to make dinner with a handful of rice and local edible plants to her losing her niece and arm to a detonated bomb in the span of a few scenes, leaving me feeling like something was lost in the transition period.
I think this could have been easily alleviated by injecting more foreshadowing into the film through the use of a clearer direction where the story was going in the opening narrator’s monologue and through the use of color and light as events slowly build to the beginning of the air raids.
O: There were certainly weird tonal shifts, especially when the war escalates in the Hiroshima Prefecture. While it could’ve lent to some Cerebus Syndrome (albeit justified), this felt like it was some back and forth tonality much like the scene of the birds singing right after Bambi’s mom dies. Yes, it’s an odd comparison, but that’s what it felt like a bit. Perhaps the extended version avoids that issue when it comes to the pacing, editing, and storytelling.
I really don’t want to keep bringing up Grave of the Fireflies as a comparison with In This Corner of the World, but it still needs to be brought up. There are obvious differences with In This Corner of the World being about Hiroshima while that Ghibli movie is about the firebombing of Kobe and the aftermath of it. However, I felt that this movie from MAPPA had NOWHERE near as much gravitas as that other WWII-based film. Say what you will about Grave of the Fireflies being one of the most depressing movies of all time (animated or live-action), but at least it will affect anyone emotionally; I have rarely heard anyone saying they didn’t cry watching it. In This Corner of the World lacked that emotional punch to really work. I’m not saying it should’ve been this huge tragedy piece (I understand the irony of that sentence when this movie uses the atomic bomb as a legitimate plot point in the final act of the film), but they could’ve at least put more effort into feeling the aftereffects and ramifications of the war, especially during the second half of the film. I felt as though they didn’t put enough heart in the more tragic scenes, which is a shame. They were still sad, but the tonal shifts make it harder to create a lasting effect after the credits roll. There was some decently-handled fridge horror, like showing some of the survivors or how one supporting character is implied to have gotten radiation poisoning despite looking unscathed, but they could have made a bigger impact. It doesn’t have to go full-on Now and Then, Here and There or Barefoot Gen (I’ve seen parts of that anime movie where it showed the atomic bomb which get VERY disturbing), but there could’ve been something to make the viewer care about the devastation around the characters in Kure and Hiroshima.
J: Interestingly enough, I actually felt the opposite. While I haven’t seen Grave of the Fireflies (I know, gasp, another sin!), I felt this film was more impactful than any other wartime film I’ve seen because of the way they portrayed the littler, quieter moments of Suzu’s life during the war. I thought the quiet attention to those elements you mentioned (seeing the survivors clutching Suzu, mistaking her for a lost loved one; radiation poisoning; etc.) worked quite effectively and were in keeping with the film’s minimalistic approach. I think the final nail in the coffin of why it worked for me was seeing the ups and downs this family had gone through: from the quiet before the war to the war efforts they participated in to the war coming to them directly… looping all the way back to them trying to adjust to their lives after the war. The scene that still stands out most to me is when they eat white rice for the first time in ages and remove the curtain they’d placed around the kitchen light to help hide the town from air raids. The sense of relief the family feels, despite their conflicted feelings—about losing the war, losing loved ones, and being under a foreign power’s control—really hit home to me. You can feel their mixed feelings but their overall sense of hope that life has and will go on.
O: I thought the quieter moments were just fine, so I should’ve made that clear. It certainly added insight to the family and what life was like in the earlier parts of WWII Japan. I guess being “spoiled” by that particular Isao Takahata film made me set the bar for wartime stories. War doesn’t look glamorous with In This Corner of the World, which I will give credit for. It’s just that the harsher elements, while handled well, didn’t have as much of a heart-wrenching aural punch to the gut like Grave of the Fireflies did for me. To this film’s credit, there is a better sense of hope that doesn’t feel forced, artificial, or like a Disney ending, if you will.
Oh, and if you watch Grave of the Fireflies… make sure you watch it in Japanese, have a tissue box within arm’s reach and make sure you’re not depressed before popping in the DVD or streaming. You’ve been warned.
J: We’d better wrap this up before Osprey gets me watching a certain wartime Ghibli movie! Let’s move to our final thoughts on In This Corner of the World.
This film did a fantastic job showcasing just how difficult war is: financially, physically, emotionally, and mentally. War films always manage to portray some element of how painful the situation is, but seeing characters wounded from the war feels that much more potent when you’ve spent so much of the film seeing them live an everyday life.
This film manages to show how difficult all the different trials of war are and never trivializes any of them. It shows how difficult it is to handle dwindling supplies and to try to provide for a family. It shows how hard losing a family member can be on an entire household. It shows how war leaves conflicted feelings in the people who lose, how it shakes their very identities. Big or small, each struggle is equally hard in different ways—a fact this film never loses sight of.
O: In This Corner of the World certainly was a solid effort when it comes to historical and war dramas involving WWII. I did enjoy the characterization and how it shows the aftereffects of the war on people’s psyche in direct and indirect ways. Most other efforts glamorize war, but this film did a great job avoiding it, not making it some propaganda piece for nationalistic thinking.
J: It reminds the viewer that in war, there are no evil empires that are wholly in the wrong with entire armies of villainous lackeys; real war is two sides of a conflict between human beings, each with their own lives, their own emotions, their own families and loved ones and stories. It shows how losing even one life can make such a huge impact on someone… and how much devastation it causes when hundreds, thousands, millions of lives are taken.
O: Exactly. And it shows the internalized conflict of other Japanese people giving the characters a hard time just for trying to live their lives in an area affected by the war as it escalates over the years with the Pacific Theater.
There were issues such as not going all the way with some of the more tragic elements and the tonal whiplash in multiple places in the movie, but it’s certainly better than most WWII-based movies that I’ve seen. If one wants to see a film that doesn’t glorify war, but at the same time not being preachy about it and having good characters, then In This Corner of the World will certainly work for you.
J: I think the highest praise any film of this nature can receive is that it changed how the viewer thinks. It certainly did that for me.
O: Jeannette, thanks for collaborating with me on this review!
J: Thanks so much for having me!
Adjustable Rating System:
Add 1-2 points if you like slice of life elements.
Add 1 point if you like watercolor-based animation.
Subtract 1-2 points if you want grittier war dramas.
Subtract 1-2 points if you need perfect pacing and tonal consistency.
-Creative minimalistic animation
-Great soundtrack and sound effects
-Certain tragic elements lack a serious punch
-Some of the daydreams get questionable
Final Score from Curtis/Ospreyshire: 7/10 points
Final Score from Jeannette: 8/10 points
Content Warning: In This Corner of the World is rated PG-13, which I believe makes sense. Things start out calm and innocent, but they become brutal later on with warfare, blood, death, and destruction during WWII. Men, women, and children die in different ways, and not all of the casualties are handled cleanly. The subplot with Suzu’s childhood friend Tetsu Mizuhara gets awkward with him macking on Suzu despite her already being married. There’s some smoking and drinking, but nothing major. The daydream with the monster marrying a crocodile bride is all kinds of eyebrow-raising, even if it’s played for some calm laughs after Hiroshima is hit by the atomic bomb.
-Curtis Monroe and Jeannette Jonic
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. In This Corner of the World is property of Shout! Factory and Funimation. The Blu-Ray/DVD combo is from Amazon and is property of Shout! Factory and Funimation.