By Dustin Cabeal
Animated movies from Japan tend to be amazing from a story and film perspective. Not because I’m biased, while I do love animated films in general, I will always prefer 2-D animation. No, the real reason is that it is 2-D animation and the bulk of the world has moved on from caring about the art form. It’s a shame, but because of that stories like In This Corner of the World aren’t held to the same storytelling restraints that most films are nor are they pigeonholed into tropes like anime. Simply put, Is This Corner of the World only works in this format because it’s allowed to create a new storytelling narrative that doesn’t rely on the three-act structure or any other structure that you’d associate with Japan.
Instead, it felt like a woman sitting down with family and telling her story. Almost as if she were reading from her diary and adding extra memories. In some places the memories were short, in others, they were detailed and long.
While the story has one main character, Suzu, it’s also very much about her entire family. Not to give away more than the trailer does, but the story follows Suzu as a young child who grows up and is asked for her hand in marriage by a man she doesn’t know. She accepts and moves in with his family in a new town. The story mostly follows her time living with her husband’s family, but the backdrop of the entire film is World War II.
The brilliance of the storytelling is that its focus is never really on the war. It talks about the battleships, about the planes and the military because that’s the everyday conversations that the people are having. It would be like owning a commercial fishing boat, but never once talking about fish. It was the climate of the time, and so why the people don’t talk about the war and what the military is off doing, they do talk about the tools of war that they help maintain and build. They talk about the human cost of war when their loved ones don’t return.
What the film focuses on is the way that ordinary people get by in during this time. Living on rations, doing community work and eventually living with non-stop air raid sirens. The crazy part is that you get so wrapped up in the ordinary day to day life that you sometimes forget that there’s a war going on and even worse… that you already know how it ends.
Part of this is because Suzu is the most consistent character I’ve ever seen portrayed in an animated film. There are life changing moments that everyone goes through, but the truth of the matter is that nothing stops us from being who we are at our core. While I hate to give you an example, I will. When my grandfather died, a lot of things were shitty, and at that moment you don’t know how you’ll go back to talk about silly things like comic books or animated movies because they don’t feel like they matter at that moment. Eventually, though, you are who you are, and it shines through. Except for in movies characters constantly have a hardship that changes them and then they either change back or stay changed forever. Not that this doesn’t happen in real life, but for every movie to do it, it becomes cliché.
Suzu goes through some rough times in life, but she’s introduced as a scatter brain in the very beginning, and she always finds her way back to that. Always. It’s incredible because she’s humanized to the viewer so much more because of this consistency to her character. Suzu and the rest of the characters are more real than most live action films. Another huge part of her character is her love for art and drawing. Obviously, she’s as good as the artists illustrating her, but the way that her art flows into the story is beautiful. It's surreal at times, emotionally moving at other times and overall shows just how incredible 2-D animation is because it’s this half-way point between still art and live-action, but manages to capture something unique and expressive that 3-D animation has never tried to reach.
If you haven’t figured it out by now, I will plainly say that the animation for the film was striking and beautiful. The detail, the realism, it was all so gorgeous to look at. It is one of the few films of late that I became so emerged into the story that I forgot that I was watching a film. That is a tremendous feeling to have, and I was almost sad when the movie came to an end. Not because of the ending subject matter, but because it ended in general.
It is refreshing to see more animated movies coming out of Japan and coming from different studios. I hope that this trend will continue because it’s clear that America has given up on 2-D animation. The story and the characters for In This Corner of the World are the best I’ve seen this year. That is not something I say lightly as my enjoyment of films seems to drop the older I get. If you can see it in the theater, it’s a wonderful experience, particularly if you see it with other people that are obviously there for it as well and not just because another film was sold out. In This Corner of the World isn’t so much of an instant classic as it is a road map for other creators to follow.
In This Corner of the World
Director: Sunao Katabuchi
Writers: Sunao Katabuchi, Fumiyo Kono, Chie Uratani
Studio: Mappa, Genco
Distributor: Shout! Factory