In This Corner Of The World is a charming anime on ordinary life in wartime Japan

In This Corner Of The World shows how life goes on in adverse times, with the clock ticking down to the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945.
In This Corner Of The World shows how life goes on in adverse times, with the clock ticking down to the bombing of Hiroshima in 1945.PHOTO: ENCORE FILMS

REVIEW / ANIMATION

IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD (Rating to be advised)

130 minutes/Opens tomorrow/3.5/5 stars

The story: Suzu (Non) grows up in the seaside town of Eba in Hiroshima and later moves to Kure after marrying Shusaku (Yoshimasa Hosoya). A dreamer who loves to draw, she does her best to keep the household running in the midst of everyday challenges in a Japan at war. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking down to the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug 6, 1945.

Aside from the blockbuster bodyswopping fantasy Your Name, In This Corner Of The World was another anime that did well in Japan last year.

It has grossed more than 2.5 billion yen (S$30.6 million) and has also been showered with awards, including the Japan Academy Prize for Animation of the Year.

In terms of style, Your Name is highly detailed and vividly coloured, while In This Corner Of The World, based on the award-winning manga of the same name (2007-2009), features charming hand-drawn animation, as though harking back to the earlier era of the film.

But even with simpler drawings, writer-director Sunao Katabuchi - who helmed feminist fairy tale anime Princess Arete (2001) - convincingly conveys what life was like in wartime Japan for ordinary folk.

Suzu has to learn to stretch the limited rations she can get hold of into a meal that can feed a household. And when she accidentally runs out of sugar, she learns of the existence of a black market that caters to every need and want - at exorbitant prices.

Even in adverse times, life goes on. The cicadas continue to cry and good-hearted Suzu - voiced with a provincial homeliness by Japanese actress-model Non - finds little pockets of happiness, such as the affection she shares with her husband.

The war that Japan is waging in the region appears to have little to do with her personally, even though her life and everyone else's are intimately bound up in it.

She is so distanced from it that when she gets chastised by the secret police for sketching warships, it comes as a bit of a jolt.

But the spectre of combat and destruction keeps inching closer to her life. Her husband is eventually drafted and then the air raids begin. Homes are levelled and lives lost.

In a poignant and masterful stroke, Suzu imagines the explosions in the sky as a colourful abstract painting, the only way she can process what is unfolding.

Looming over everything is the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and the horrors that will be unleashed.

Like the wrenching anime Grave Of The Fireflies (1988), In This Corner Of The World is ultimately an anti-war protest.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 05, 2017, with the headline 'Charming anime on ordinary life in wartime Japan'. Print Edition | Subscribe