This broke my heart in several places. I was expecting it to be distressing given the subject matter, but it was devastating in particularly poignant and upsetting ways. The story is exquisitely human, portraying the highs and lows of the human experience – the simple joys and the unendurable sufferings.
In This Corner of the World concerns a young woman called Suzu, following her from her careless, dream-filled childhood to her life as a new bride whisked away from home to live with her husband’s family. The backdrop to this small, personal story is WWII-era Japan, and while the macro events that impact the characters are world-changing the focus of the film always remains intimate.
While it conveys a society that is very alien to my own, In This Corner of the World always felt extremely poignant and true. Every member of the family – from the kind and patient mother-in-law to the bitter and wounded sister-in-law – felt like a real person, and characters who were introduced as caricatures gradually became fleshed out and sympathetic as the story unfolded and we learnt more about them. Because I came to care so much about the characters, I cared deeply about the trauma they suffered. There is no gratuitous violence or gore here, with shocking turns in the narrative propelling the characters forward instead of simply being depicted for their own sake.
I have seen this film compared to Grave of the Fireflies, and both have moments of extreme poignancy in common. The difference is that Fireflies is frequently difficult to watch because there is practically no reprieve from the pain – In This Corner of the World is far more enjoyable, mostly because it balances scenes of heartbreaking civilian suffering with moments of joy that celebrate the simple wonders and beauties of life.
I was also highly struck by how this film played gleefully with the animated form – so paint splatters become explosions, and an animated landscape transforms into a watercolour painting to convey the power of Suzu’s artistic talent. It’s inventive and beautifully executed, and it makes the emotions hit even harder.
The only reason it doesn’t have a perfect score is the ending, which felt curiously abrupt and unfinished – regardless of that, it didn’t lessen this film’s power or beauty.