The latest manga-adapted anime to hit the big screen is In This Corner of the World (original manga by Fumiyo Kōno; written & directed by Sunao Katabuchi), a portrait of the daily life of Suzu, a newlywed housewife learning to adapt to her hubby’s household. While this may seem a mundane plot, what sets this story apart is its setting – Hiroshima around the time of WWII – seen through the eyes of young woman as she comes of age.
Not many Japanese animes tend to portray the war – save for a handful like Grave of the Fireflies, and The Wind Rises, both by Studio Ghibli. However, while the premise of the story – given the setting – paints a bleak picture, the story is anything but one-dimensional, and is definitely not one with a sad ending (for those of you who hate that sort of movie).
The story begins by introducing us to Suzu, an absent-minded girl with her head permanently in the clouds, and a heart firmly dedicated to her passion for sketching and painting. Even amidst the chaos of air raids, she yearns to have her sketchbook. However, Shusaku manages to wiggle his way into her heart over time.
The slow pacing allows us to immerse ourselves in her quotidian life, giving us glimpses into what Hiroshima was like in the 1930s and 40s – background sceneries of which were meticulously researched to ensure integrity – and shows us just how resilient the women were, considering the harsh environment in which they had to perform daily tasks like housework and farming.
The animation, while seemingly harking back to anime styles of the 80s, may be simple, but is intertwined with moments of brilliant aesthetic that blends Suzu’s imaginary watercolour paintings with the narrative. For example, her painting of white squalls were represented by white bunnies jumping across the water; and in another profound moment, a fatal explosion is depicted by a black background with simple line drawings that seem almost too painful to draw.
For a film of such delicacy, it manages to evoke a myriad of emotions – sadness, fear, joy, anticipation, and surprise – as Suzu falls into situations ranging from air raids to near-adultery, and the death of a relative. What you don’t expect is the hilarity, mostly involving her own clueless personality. One funny scene involved her paranoia about her bald spot, and another involves a strange wedding custom involving umbrellas, which had the audience in stitches.
The movie is genuinely funny, peppered with darker moments, but these don’t detract from the social relevance of the era. We see how Japan coped with rations (leading to Suzu’s ‘creative’ culinary skills), frequent air raids, and men being shipped off to unknown lands. However, a poignant moment was seeing how Suzu felt upon finding out that Japan had lost the war.
Despite the suffering and loss, what brings her back to her old self is ultimately her own doting husband, with whom she manages to find happiness in the end.