In This Corner of the World is a different kind of war film. Sunao Katabuchi’s anime is set primarily around Kure and Hiroshima during World War II. Rather than focus on Japan’s war efforts, the film centres upon light family drama that, as you’d expect, turns increasingly dark. The film’s tone is gentle and gracefully humorous, which makes the inevitable descent into tragedy even more poignant.
Katabuchi clearly owes a debt to the likes of Ozu and Naruse, with his film similarly maturing emotionally as we come to understand his characters – their dreams, their contradictions, the vibrancy of their lives. However, the film falls short of such mastery, in large part because its muddled first act and its simplistic animation style.
The first half hour of In This Corner of the World flits between flashbacks, fantasy and flashforwards to disorienting effect. While the film’s endearing hand-drawn style – inspired by the drawings of protagonist Suzu (Non) – is undeniably gorgeous, it also makes it difficult to distinguish between characters. Combined with time-trickery, I found it difficult to identify or identify with these characters until well into the piece. This limits the potency of the tragic final act, but doesn’t blunt it entirely.