Little-known Japanese animation studio MAPPA adds a sweet and respectful title to the enormous library of World War II cinema with this adaptation of Fumiyo Kono’s coming-of-age manga. It follows Suzu, a young woman living a quaint and carefree life in Hiroshima. That is, until she’s suddenly wedded to a guy she barely knows and dragged to live with this stranger’s family in neighbouring city Kure. Despite this, she carves her own sense of normality out of an unfair situation – a skill they all need when the war reaches their shores.
At a glance, it wouldn’t seem like a film this cutesy could speak so swiftly about the horrors of WWII from a civilian perspective. The sun-washed colour scheme gives the small town streets and green hill valleys a warm serenity while the childlike character designs instil the adults with innocence and vulnerability. This is very much to the film’s intent.
In This Corner of the World cherishes the little details that make up an ordinary life, from cooking rice to kissing one’s husband for the first time. There’s nothing particularly worrisome on a day-to-day basis, so when the grand darkness of war threatens to swallow everything, it’s a nearly unrecognisable event. This is how the townspeople felt, told of the war but sheltered from its reality, and through its art direction and characters, the film does an excellent job relaying that separation.
Make no mistake though – In This Corner of the World isn’t the misery-fest of Studio Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies. It’s a celebration of those who continued everyday life over the sound of death knocking on the door. If there’s one shot that summarises the film, it’s that of smoke blooming from behind the hills while Suzu dutifully collects the washing off the line.