REVIEW | ‘In This Corner of the World

"In This Corner of the World" immerses us in a poetic, lilting emotional piece of cinema, says CNC's resident movie reviewer Stephanie Mayo

JAPANESE  animated period drama “In This Corner of the World” centers on a young wife during the Second World War, giving us the perspective of a civilian trying to survive in one of the worst times in history.

We follow Suzu (Rena Nonen aka Non), a distracted, daydreaming girl gifted in drawing, as she grows up with a close-knit family in the Hiroshima town of Eba. Barely out of her childhood, at the age of 18, she is married off to Shusaku (Yoshimasa Hosoya), a young man in the city of Kure, a seaport that serves as the naval and artillery base. Instantly, Suzu is thrown into domestic duties, striving to be a diligent housewife in wartime Japan.

Directed by Sunao Katabuchi, based on Fumiyo Kono’s 2007 manga of the same title, “In This Corner of the World” immerses us in a poetic, lilting emotional piece of cinema. His treatment is episodic, like flipping through Suzu’s diary. It can be unsettling at first, as we jump from one chapter to the next, with no cinematic flow.

But Suzu’s life is too compelling that you nevertheless find yourself absorbed. The movie sucks you right into the drama of her daily life as she adjusts to her new home and family in a foreign town.

Suzu is a homely girl, too ordinary, and you find yourself rooting for her, delighting every time she impresses her in-laws. You are also moved by the kindness of her husband, who is practically a stranger, making the dynamics of their arranged marriage fascinating.

You also stress over how her temperamental and haughty sister-in-law Keiko treats her, you become attached to Harumi, Keiko’s adorable daughter, and you are anxious when Suzu goes shopping in town because she keeps losing her way.

The film is truly transportive; the house in Kure becomes your home, and you soon memorize the steps to the house, the layout of the house, feel Kure’s summer heat, and watch with both interest and curiosity the battle ships in the distance.

The hand-drawn animation is superior, painterly and romantic, bringing to life the events in Suzu’s life. Katabuchi sometimes blend Suzu’s artistic drawings into her reality, creating a more whimsical, magical experience. And one of the best scenes is Suzu’s culinary skills as she creatively concocts and maximizes dishes from their scarce rations.

Although it’s a WWII movie, it’s more of an intimate, sensitive portrait of a civilian woman as she tries to live up to the expectations of her new family. The horrors of the war are distant, but nevertheless palpable. Air raids and privations are set in the background, so that the threat of war is still felt, but they’re not as morbidly graphic and harrowing as “Graveyard of the Fireflies.”

But the movie still shocks, catapulting you to a sudden tragedy in Suzu’s life in the third act. And since it’s set in Hiroshima, you already know what to expect, and when it happens, the tragedy is beautifully rendered.

“In This Corner of the World” is an engrossing, heartbreaking epic tale. It feels like reading a richly detailed novel, transporting you back in time and deeply connecting you to the characters. Profound and poignant, Suzu’s corner of the world will linger in you long after you’ve left the cinema.

4 out of 5 stars

In Philippine cinemas since June 28, 2017