On my five-hour bus ride home, I watched Sunao Katabuchi’s latest animated film, In This Corner of the World (Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni), which had been recommended by my Japanese language professor. Captivated by the candor of Katabuchi’s resonant storytelling, everything around me melted away, and the world was reduced to my phone’s six-by-three-inch screen. The wistful soundtrack and clean animation throughout instantly swept me away to simpler times.
Set during World War II, this award-winning film is an expressive story about Suzu, a woman who leaves her family in Hiroshima to join her husband in Kure, a naval port city. A daydreamer and storyteller, Suzu has a bashful disposition and inclination to capture the changing world through illustration. When she gets married, she cheerfully and diligently devotes herself to her husband’s family. She is not depicted as a particularly exceptional, and many of the events that occur in the film are out of her control. Instead, she floats through life with a backbone of quiet fidelity, continuously working on chores to keep the collective harmony in her household. Her narrative is a glimpse into a simple life that is full of all of life’s regular ups and downs, dreams and tragedies.
Suzu’s unique experience is of a civilian’s perspective from the losing side of the war; though she remains far removed from politics, she experiences all the effects of wartime as she and her family do their best to support their homeland.
Heart-wrenching scenes are followed by quotidian ones; In This Corner of the World reminds us that life goes on. Exemplifying the Japanese way of courage in the face of adversity, the film’s muted and subdued story elements let the viewer fill in the blanks. Suzu and her family are not primarily portrayed as helpless victims of the war; rather, they stoically continue their daily lives: mending the roof, collecting rations, inventing new ways to cook with fewer ingredients, hanging their clothes to dry even as debris rains down from above. Like many survivors of World War II, Suzu’s is a family that endures hardship and takes life as it comes.
Though the entire film is from the protagonist’s perspective, it is difficult to tell exactly how Suzu feels in each of her interactions. Mistakes are made, and funny stories are told, but the film does not explicitly announce each impactful encounter with a bang — Katabuchi masterfully choreographs the events to flow independently of each other, weaving together to influence future emotion and shape personal narrative, as real life does.
The ambiguity of the scenes in In This Corner of the World make it difficult to see the divide between dreams and reality, letting the viewer’s mind wander and wonder about the possibilities. One particular scene caught my attention: Suzu, in a flashback, remembers an important detail that saves her life. But there is nothing flashy or cliché about the moment; her realization isn’t the keystone discovery in a Sherlock Holmes mystery, nor is it Wonder Woman’s dawning realization of Ares’ identity. It is as fleeting and serendipitous as déjà vu, exemplifying the beauty of the film’s ordinariness.
In This Corner of the World presents anguish, simple joy and sentimentality without the overdone theatricality of Hollywood films.
In This Corner of the World is playing at Cornell Cinema on Sunday, Nov. 5, at 7:45 p.m.
Amy Lin is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at email@example.com.