It sounds all too familiar. A Japanese animation exploring the horrors of the bombing of Japan during the Second World War, primarily the struggle of one family. Yet In This Corner Of The World takes a remarkably different, but equally resonating, approach to its subject than the masterful Grave of the Fireflies, made all the way back in 1988.
The latter is a wholly realistic, stark take on the brutality of total war on human beings, whereas the former wields an unbridled creativity. Soft, gentle animation creates a panoply of wonderful images and its poetic artistry seems to revel in both the peaceful moments and the scenes of panic, violence and destruction.
In This Corner Of The World begins some years before the outbreak of WWII and introduces its protagonist Suzu as a daydreaming youngster who paints. She lives with her parents and sister in Eba, in the Hiroshima district, immediately causing a drawing of breath with the historical knowledge to which we are privy.
With soft fading and a whimsical sensibility, Suzu is painted as a charming, likeable character, albeit forgetful and clumsy, but once her location is revealed there is a looming sense of dread, the audience knowing that she and her family will not survive.
Then she is chosen for marriage by a suitor from a town on the other side of the mountain, and with annihilation seemingly avoided, the plot bounces along merrily. It also deftly avoids cliché - Suzu’s married life does and doesn’t conform to stereotypes, leaving an intrigue as to her destination. There is hardship, but there is also much humour and a gradually solidifying love between Suzu and her husband Shuzaku (Yoshimasa Hosoya) that will grow until the climactic event poised on the horizon of history.
The palate of Sunao Katabuchi’s film is gorgeous, from its lush countryside greens and the dirty city greys to the ephemeral warmth of the sunsets, the colours of Suzu and Shusaku’s corner of the world presenting a magical hue.
Yet some of the focus is on the minute movements of the human inhabitants, particularly their hands as they tense under the pressure life is exerting on them. It’s a perfectly balanced aesthetic of dazzling ambience and delicate intimacy.
This family is shown at its worst and best, its highs and lows, and with that they become totally denuded. The souls laid bare become a tribute to those who battle on and the endurance of the human spirit.