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In This Corner of the World is as dainty as a dandelion. The anime’s slightly muted watercolor palette recalls a Whistler painting; its soft lines reflect the femininity of its 18-year-old main character.
It’s not, in other words, the style you’d expect from a film that tells the story of the United States’ bombing of Hiroshima.
This story, which writer-director Sunao Katabuchi adapted from the same-titled manga, is told from the Japanese side, however, and devotes most of its two-hour-plus run time to routine domesticity instead of warfare. The film jumps through the years in its portrayal of Suzu (Rena Nounen), who’s 18 and married when the attack occurs. We first meet her in 1933; then ’35, ’38, ’40, and so on. It’s a tumble of an adolescence that at once proceeds so quickly you’ll have trouble keeping the characters straight but also feels fully realized by the time the film is over.
It’s best to focus on Suzu and the peace that’s increasingly disturbed in her hometown of Hiroshima and adopted city of Kure. We’re told Suzu, who’s always sketching whatever is in front of her, is a “daydreamer,” and indeed she has little memory of the events that took her from her family home. A young man, Shusaku (Yoshimasa Hosoya), has come from another town to ask for her hand in marriage; she’s never met him, and although she’s told it’s OK to turn him down, she accepts anyway for reasons that aren’t clear. But on the train, she wonders: “Was I always daydreaming? I don’t know when or how all this happened.” That’s a pretty good summation of life passing you by, although a feeling that was likely more often experienced by teenagers in the ’40s than ones today.
From this time until the bomb drops, there’s even more frequent time-hopping and more confusing characters populating Suzu’s life. It’s hard to distinguish, for example, between her husband and a suitor, while her in-laws remain a largely unidentified clan. For a while, it’s not even clear that she did get married. Suzu’s most defined relationship is with Harumi (Natsuki Inaba), her husband’s little sister, a girl who giggles and plays and doesn’t really need an introduction—at least once you determine that she’s not Suzu’s child. When the aerial warfare over both Kure and Hiroshima escalate, the two experience a tragedy that’s more immediate and poignant than what Suzu knows is waiting for her back home after the A-bomb is dropped.
In This Corner of the World feels leisurely in its exploration of family, grief, remorse, and resilience, but by the time the credits roll, it’s clear that Katabuchi has crafted a gorgeous epic of a devastating time. You can read about the number of deaths that the bomb caused directly or indirectly but never grasp the sense that the film gives you: that relatable, everyday people suffered or were lost, which hits home harder than any statistic.
In This Corner of the World opens Friday at the Angelika Film Center.