Anime Reviews: In This Corner of the World
Some Info About This Critically-Beloved Film
Title: In This Corner of the World a.k.a. Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni
Film Length: 130 minutes
Release Date: 11/12/2016
Age Rating: 13+ (dark or disturbing thematic elements and some very grisly war-related imagery)
Summary: In the years leading up to World War II, the peace and modest prosperity experienced by the common Japanese peasant was soon to be thrust into the harsh tides of war--Suzu Urano, an artistic and imaginative child, grows up during the pre-war days and, after turning 18 years old, is propositioned for marriage by a young man named Shusaku Houjo. Reluctantly, Suzu goes through with the union and moves to her new home in Kure. There, she comes to meet all kinds of new people from her kindly parents-in-law, to the headstrong Keiko and her precocious daughter Harumi, as well as adjust to the minutia of her new everyday life. However, as the flames of war encroach ever closer to mainland Japan, Suzu must face the reality that, at any moment, even in this quiet corner of the country, it could all be taken away.
The Good: Unique, watercolor art style; a wonderful and harrowing portrait of everyday life in the midst of war
The Bad: May be a little too slow for some; ending is a bit too sudden
The Ugly: WHY WOULD YOU EVEN SHOW THAT FOR CRYING OUT LOUD AND THEN SHE JUST SLUMPS AND FOLDS IN HALF AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA
What brought me to see this film?
Y'know, having asked that question, I can't really remember why I wanted to check this movie out. Maybe it's the fact that it was the third big award-winning 2016 anime film? Maybe it's because it's Certified Fresh on Rotten Tomatoes? Maybe I'm just subtly trying to look like a connoisseur with refined taste? Whatever the reason, it must not have been pressing, as it took me nearly 2 years to finally check out In This Corner of This World. It's not gonna crack my favorites list, but I'm happy I saw it. Strange to say about a movie like this, though. Let's talk about the finer points, shall we?
How did this critical darling earn its praise?
First of all, it's easy to wow the audience with gorgeous visuals, which goes a long way for an animated film to earn critical praise (go figure, eh?). And that's precisely what this film does, albeit in subtle ways. The soft, earth tones of the short, simplistic character art allows us to relate to the cast as everyday normal people, and the lush watercolor greens and browns of the countryside mountains effortlessly shows us the natural beauty that surrounds them--the kind of scenery you would presume impossible for the horrors of war to ever breach. As the film progresses, the colors become more and more muted, perfectly accentuating the film's darkening mood. In every way, the visuals steal the show and, if someone placed this film as one of their favorites based purely on the animation, they would be absolutely justified.
Also, fun fact: The scenes that take place in 1930s Hiroshima were faithfully recreated from old records and photographs and such. It's the kind of thing you wouldn't think about until someone told you, but now that I've told you, gaze and be impressed!
But let's beat around the bush no longer--the real reason this movie is praised to high heaven is because a.) it's a war movie, b.) it's a war movie from a civilian perspective a la Grave of the Fireflies (your time will come eventually...), and c.) it's a war movie from a civilian perspective that's damn near flawlessly executed. From the light-hearted and silly opening scenes to the outright horror of its final act, In This Corner of the World delivers. And the evil genius of the film is that, until the one-hour mark, the war is almost fictional--something far away and unrelated to the proceedings--and so it's easy to forget about it and just lose yourself in the frivolous day-to-day lives of the characters. You begin to settle into the same kind of rhythm that Suzu and her family settle into, and it becomes all the more dramatic and jarring when the air raid sirens go off and the distant booms can be heard.
And that shift, once it happens, it never lets you catch that rhythm again. Things let up, the characters feel safe again, they might even feel secure enough to start laughing and cracking jokes once more, but then you get punched in the face yet again. This trick should not work more than once, and yet it does. You think you're prepared for what's coming, but you're not. Just like it does in the real world, tragedy strikes without warning, without preamble, and without mercy. And yet, the world does not stop--life goes on, the world spins on, people move on, and so should we all. And amidst all of this, Suzu still feels conflicted about her role in her new family, whether she's a help or a burden, whether she really loves Shusaku or is just forcing herself, whether her relationship with Keiko will ever not be antagonistic--personal problems don't just vanish because a war looms overhead. This kind of attention to realism is what makes the best war movies resonate with audiences, and this movie is no different in that regard.
Where does the film fall short of its prestige?
Well, remember how I said earlier that this film does an excellent job pulling you into its characters' daily rhythm? It might do too good a job for many, since one of the big complaints I see online is that the movie is exceedingly slow. I won't lie, I found myself checking the clock every now and then, too. I don't know how I would fix this, since the slow first half is absolutely essential to the film's many gut punches later on, but maybe that's why no one will hire me to be in the industry. In any case, if you're one to find yourself getting antsy during a movie, you'll find that to be the case here, but I assure you that the wait is well worth it.
And then the opposite problem occurs: During the last 10 minutes or so, a lot of things are suddenly happening extremely quickly, and the whiplash I got as a result was legendary. It's like they were planning for this last act to comprise 25 minutes or so, but they realized it wasn't in the budget and had to condense it down to prevent a dip in quality. Same thing happened with Now and Then, Here and There, where the final act suddenly jumped to hyper-speed and ushered us out of the room like the Nigerian prince* had just arrived. Just be warned ahead of time that the ending picks up ridiculous speed.
*I am well aware there is no Nigerian prince, the country of Nigeria is a republic, that's the joke, ha ha, laugh damn you!
So, were the critics right? Is this a great film?
In many ways, yes--from the standpoint of narrative importance, artistic mastery, and historical significance, In This Corner of the World absolutely deserves every word of praise it gets. However, from an audience enjoyment perspective, it loses some of its goodwill with pacing issues that may take some people straight out of the film. On the whole, though, those pacing issues are chump change compared to the sheer quality the film otherwise displays--from its unique visuals to its powerhouse story. This is essential viewing for viewers looking for an atypical war film that focuses on the civilian side of things (alongside the aforementioned classic, Grave of the Fireflies), and it would still earn a fairly strong recommendation from me even if you weren't. Don't sleep on this one, folks!
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10. In This Corner of the World presents a calmer (and thus, more harrowing) look at how war affects the people not directly involved, utilizing excellent watercolor-style animation and superb direction to give this weighty story its much-needed teeth.