It would be great if a story about imminent nuclear warfare didn’t feel quite so relevant, but this animated epic gives reason to hope.
David Ehrlich writes: Every year, on the evening of August 6th, the people of Hiroshima gather along the banks of the Ota River and light more than 10,000 paper lanterns as the final part of a deeply moving peace ceremony. The memorial event caps off a day of reflection that includes film screenings, musical performances, and a wide variety of different speeches. Hibakusha — survivors of the nuclear blasts — gather around the Atomic Bomb Dome, many of them joined by their children and grandchildren. One particularly animated man performs a parable about the horrors visited upon his hometown, while a British ex-pat translates his story into English for the foreigners in attendance. The atmosphere is solemn, but not somber. There’s good food. Even the tourists start to loosen up.
However, perhaps the most striking thing about how Hiroshima chooses to commemorate its defining tragedy is the way in which the city focuses on the future as much as it does on the past. In Japan, August 6th is a day about peace, but it’s also a day about prevention, and the difference between the two grows more palpable as you wander the area and engage in the various events. It’s unspeakably powerful to see people so constructively repurpose their grief (and also their guilt) into a rallying cry for a brighter tomorrow, to see them find light in a bottomless hole. Now, that power has been captured in a thoughtful new film.
A lushly animated historical drama about a young woman who comes of age during the tumult of World War II, Sunao Katabuchi’s “In this Corner of the World” is scattered and emotionally disjointed from start to finish, but few films have done so much to convey the everyday heroism of getting out of bed in the morning — not just surviving in the shadow of death, but living in it as well. Adapted from a manga by Fumiyo Kōno and telling a fictional story that’s shaped by rich period detail, the action begins in December 1933. A buoyant girl named Suzu (Non) ventures into downtown Hiroshima on a quest to find some treats for her siblings. “They’ve always called me a daydreamer,” she tells us in the first lines of the voiceover track that’s often substitutes for more coherent storytelling, but Katabuchi does a fine job of drawing out her overactive imagination.
The pre-war Japan that the film draws for its heroine is a wispy and idyllic place, an enchanted kingdom where “The Hallelujah Chorus” plays softly in the background and the skies look like they’ve been painted with watercolors (Katabuchi once served as an assistant director for Hayao Miyazaki, but his delicate style here more closely resembles the work of Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata). At one point, Suzu looks at the ocean and imagines that the crest atop each wave is a white rabbit skittering atop the surface. She lives in a beautiful world, and thinks of it as an even more beautiful one. It’s no wonder she becomes a painter.
Suzu’s fancifulness isn’t diminished over the years. If anything, she’s so lost in thought that she barely even notices the war ships amassing in the harbor near her parents’ house. The year’s skip by until a quiet navy man named Shūsaku (Yoshimasa Hosoya) proposes to Suzu out of the blue in 1944. She agrees to marry him, and leaves her home in Hiroshima to live with Shūsaku’s family in the nearby port city of Kure. She’s only 18 at the time.
The rest of the film takes place in Kure as Suzu adjusts to life with her new husband’s family and everyone tiptoes towards the oblivion we know is waiting for them just around the bend. When Shūsaku gets drafted, Suzu is left to assume even more responsibility; she cooks and gets rations and even helps build an air-raid shelter without ever breaking her stride … (read more)