In This Corner of the World

Suzu Urano is a carefree girl who loves to daydream and draw. She grows up with her humble family of nori (edible seaweed) farmers in the village of Ebi, near Hiroshima in pre-war Japan. One day, during a visit to Hiroshima, she gets lost and has a strange encounter with a boy, Shusaku. But as the years pass and Suzu grows into teenagerhood, she only has eyes for her childhood friend, Tetsu. This idyllic life, however, soon comes to an end: as the 1930s become the 40s and Japan becomes enveloped in World War Two, changes occur. The family lose their nori farm to a land reclamation program. Testsu joins the Imperial Japanese Navy, following in the wake of his older brother, who drowned at sea some years beforehand. And Shusaku, now a young man serving as a civilian officer in the Navy, asks Suzu to marry him. Although he is practically a stranger to her, Suzu agrees to marry Shusaku and moves with him to his family home in the port city of Kure. There, she settles into the routine of daily life, undertaking the chores expected of her as the newest member of the family. Although her parents-in-law are kindly, Suzu has difficulties with Shusaku’s sister, Keiko: embittered by the young death of her husband, being forced to give up her son to her in-laws, and the loss of her business, Keiko is inclined to bully Suzu. But these domestic concerns are gradually eclipsed by the growing realisation that Japan is losing the war: the daily rations doled out to the public become more and more meagre; and the US Air Force, having gained complete air-superiority over Japan, bombs Kure and other cities at will. Amidst all these difficulties, tragedy strikes. Suzu’s older brother, Yoichi, is killed at sea while serving with the Navy; and Keiko’s daughter Harumi is killed by an unexploded bomb after an air-raid – an explosion that also costs Suzu her right hand, with which she used to draw and sketch. Eventually, Shusaku is drafted into the Navy and must leave for military training; only Tetsu appears untouched by the war, re-appearing one night on shore leave, stirring up Suzu’s unresolved feelings for him and tempting her into a liaison. Then comes the ultimate horror: on August 6th, 1945, the USA drops an atomic bomb on Hiroshima…

Based on the acclaimed manga by Fumiyo Kōno and produced by studio MAPPA. “In This Corner of the World” premiered in Japanese cinemas on August 11, 2017.  Presented in a deceptively simple but powerfully evocative hand-drawn style that skilfully utilises a distinctive watercolour palette, at just over two hours in length, the film proceeds in a languid, almost dreamlike state that both mirrors Suzu’s essential personality and downplays the dramatic impact of the events in which she finds herself participating. Yet it is this very understatement that makes “In This Corner of the World” all the more powerful and hard-hitting: through its calm, objective lens we evoke the warm memories of childhood; we witness the drudgery of life on the lowest rung of the household pecking order; we feel the unexpected stirrings of affection and a sense of belonging; and we are confronted with the daily humiliations imposed by war and a society no longer able to provide for its citizens. Most of all, however, we realise that, even in the midst of momentous and destructive events, people still seek ways to give shape to their daily lives: they express trauma, they care for one another, they try to sustain both their physical existence and their personal, familial, and communal relationships. By such daily heroism is our humanity retained, even in the midst of the random and depersonalising brutality of war.   Commercially successful and critically lauded, “In This Corner of the World” is a visually appealing and heart-wrenchingly beautiful masterpiece, a powerful testament to the effectiveness of indirect, non-graphic narrative in depicting human nobility and the terrible, wounding graces that nonetheless make life meaningful and purposive.

Text ©Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2021. All rights reserved.