In This Corner of the World
Suzu is a young woman from Hiroshima who finds herself abruptly coerced into marrying a man named Shusaku Houjo, and to move in with his family in Kure. But soon there's a war on, and as the American forces drive inexorably closer to Japan, the deprivations- and the horrors- of war increasingly become part of her personal experience.
When I read "Hiroshima" in the box copy of this OVA, I thought we were going to get another Barefoot Gen-style anime that was preoccupied with the horrors specific to the nuclear bombing of that place, but In This Corner of the World is much, MUCH more than that; and while the war IS unspeakably cruel to Suzu, it is, in the end, perhaps less so to her than to others. The show talks about the importance of our decisions, and yet seems to in fact demonstrate that pure chance is such a strong determinant of our fate that even making the "right" decisions doesn't guarantee that one can escape unscathed.
For all the awfulness that the war brings, In This Corner of the World is centered in the human drama of its characters, with Suzu as the focal point. Suzu, for her part, initially goes along with the hastily-arranged marriage without much complaining- she's a young woman in a "traditional society" after all, and her own family is nearly broke. (There's some very interesting detail about marriage customs of the time- I'm thinking specifically of the "umbrella" business.) She's also been recruited to help take care of her new mother-in-law. As noted, Suzu's usually flexible enough to cope with this; yes, with regrets from time to time, but mostly maintaining her cheerful, if sometimes clumsy, demeanor. (She describes herself as easily distracted- the best gag in the show grows out of her carelessness with some sugar- but she's quite a talented sketch artist, which I would think would require some intense concentration.) But as the war's damage gets closer and closer to home, her assertiveness grows, and in the wake of a personal tragedy she- completely understandably- is filled with anger and bitterness. This finally sets us up for some "will she or won't she?" suspense, with the clock ticking (the show keeps us abreast of dates, and sometimes even time of day.)
Shusaku, for his part, tries to treat her with some kindness and tenderness. He also clearly feels some guilt over making her marry a total stranger. (Her first question to him, on their wedding night: "Have we met before?") The remorse he feels gets demonstrated in what we'll call an utterly fascinating (and perhaps misguided) act of generosity when they later have a houseguest. (That houseguest, by the way, has apparently experienced a 180-degree turnaround in personality since we first met them near the beginning of the show.) As is often true of the best fiction, the characters' personalities are conveyed by their actions as much as by their words.
And then there's Keiko, Shusaku's sister. Cast out by her husband's family after his death ("traditional society" thing, again), she moves back in with her family- including her brother and his new bride. She seems to develop an instant dislike for Suzu- apparently because Suzu doesn't seem all that interesting to HER- and things will get REALLY strained later. However, the rest of Shusaku's family pretty consistently supports Suzu.
The show is excellent at capturing the ambivalence of the civilians toward the military (and the paranoia of the military toward civilians, too.) There's a marvelous scene where a group of women are patriotically congratulating a young draftee, then turn around so he can't see the looks of horror on their faces- by this stage of the war, everyone knew that these young men would almost certainly die-and the "front" had already moved from distant shores, into (literally) their own backyards.
I've almost no complaints about this film. I'm basically even OK with the simplistic character art, though I wish it did a more consistent job of maturing Suzu's appearance over time. (The show does cover about a decade and a half of time, plus the aging effects of war and personal trauma, yet sometimes her appearance in the latter part of the show is little different from her appearance as an adolescent.)
There's an "embarrassment of riches" here, as much in the little details as in the overall picture (the Wiki article says that actual experiences in the war were researched and incorporated into the story), yet the story that the show REALLY cares about is its human drama, the roots of which run much deeper than what's conveyed by dialogue alone. This is perhaps the most comprehensive and engaging treatment I've yet seen of life in Japan's "homefront" during WWII, an experience that is beginning to fade from living memory - as seen through the eyes of a young woman who just wanted to live in peace. — Allen Moody
Recommended Audience: MPAA rating is PG-13, for war violence and mature situations.
Version(s) Viewed: R1 DVD.
Review Status: Full (1/1)
In This Corner of the World © 2016 MAPPA
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