Eye For Film >> Movies >> In This Corner Of The World (2016) Film Review
In This Corner Of The World
Reviewed by: Jane Fae
In This Corner Of The World is a quiet, domestic tale of housework and managing the food budget in times of adversity. Or it is a dark and angry film about loss and the horrors of war. More accurately it is about both: but a viewer, unprepared for what is to come, might well be beguiled – bored even – by the banality with which it sets out its stall for the first hour.
This is the story of Suzu (Non), an ordinary girl from a less than affluent family eking a living by harvesting seaweed on the coast near Hiroshima. Her poverty – her unworldliness too – lie in the detail. After she has left home, and aged 20-something, a friend tells her of the joys of ice cream and she reveals she has not only never tasted it but never heard of it before. Suzu is amiable, slightly talented when it comes to drawing, and on the clumsy side when it comes to domestic chores.
Will this talent shine through? Is this some rags to riches Cinderella story? No. Not at all. After an arranged marriage to a boy who has taken a shine to her while out in public (she is 18, he a couple of years older), she moves in with his family. There she takes on the majority of the domestic chores that his invalid mother cannot: cooking, cleaning, sewing and anything else that is thrown her way.
Cinderella without any prospect of a prince. Nor, indeed, any feminist salvation. Some viewers may recoil in horror from the unremitting exploitation here, not to mention the somewhat dodgy basis for her marriage, which gives rise, later in the film, to a theme alien to those of us used to love-conquers-all Hollywood. For despite having chosen Suzu to be his bride, her husband remains ambiguous about her. Over time, it is clear they grow to love one another. Yet he is wracked by guilt over the marriage process. So much so that, when Suzu encounters a childhood sweetheart, now all grown up and in the navy, he appears to encourage a brief dalliance, a sort of consolation prize for the pair of them.
But this is not a film about such things. This, it notes, was how life was for a poor country girl born in 1930s Japan. There is nothing more to be said. The power of the film lies in the way it draws the viewer in and connects her to Suzu's life before slowly, devastatingly, replacing it with the reality of war.
For Hiroshima, and Kure, where Suzu now lives, are both central to the Japanese war effort, and so the focus of a slow but murderous escalation in attacks. First the rationing, which Suzu and her family deal with through humour and resolve. Then the bombing, initially, just occasional nuisance, but slowly, slowly wreaking a dreadful devastating toll on Suzu and her family. Since this is Hiroshima, we know, as Suzu cannot, where we are headed. Yet that ultimate disaster is played down, noises off, almost. Because what matters, for most, is the unceasing daily grind and, after, the sense of betrayal.
That they have endured so much, only in the end to give up in the face of violence.
An odd perspective for those of us brought up on the notion of Japan as cardboard cut-out villains but having watched Suzu grow and change from girl to adult in the heart of a family that she has made her own, not so surprising.
That, in the final analysis, is both strength and weakness of this film. Its ordinariness, its banality. This, it tells us, is how things are and judging by the reviews, this slow burn quality has proven too much for some critics. Because for so long, not much happens. Yet stay with it, allow it to draw you in and in the end you will have your reward in the form of a powerful, disturbing connection to a family that, by war's end, has endured so much.
Not a Studio Ghibli film. Nonetheless, the artwork, alternating bright colour with a more washed-out pastel is wonderfully done. It also – cleverly – uses Suzu's artistic talent as a means to view events through different eyes.
All in all, a gentle, powerful film from director and writer Sunao Katabuchi, proving once again the ability of anime to surprise, to shock and to provide insight.Reviewed on: 18 Jul 2017