In This Corner of the World isn’t your typical anime. It doesn’t have elastic pirates, a kid that can turn into a giant ape, nor does it have a giant octopus inserting its tentacles into women’s buttocks. Oops, perhaps that last one doesn’t count. And right off the bat, I’ll say, this movie is definitely not for everybody… surprisingly, myself included.
Stop right there.
Before you anime lovers chase me flaming pitchforks and giant metal spiked dildos, hear me out. The fact I said this movie isn’t (necessarily) for me has got nothing to do with the fact that it’s an anime. On the contrary, I LOVED the visual imagery.
In This Corner of the World is set in Japanese cities Hiroshima and Kure during World War II, before, during and after the infamous dropping of the atomic bomb by the US. This premise got me excited for a number of reasons. One, I love a good war drama. Two, I love raw, earnest storytelling, especially one that has the potential to cause me emotional trauma for the rest of the week. But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of In This Corner of the World, is the fact that this is a war film being told from the perspective of who essentially are the so-called bad guys.
I know. All is fair in love and war. It isn’t black and white. There are no bad guys and good guys in war, only soldiers doing their jobs and civilians who suffer regardless of the outcome. But we live in a Hollywood world. And in this Hollywood world, The United States of America is oftentimes portrayed as the HERO the world deserves. And sure, perhaps the atomic bombs needed to be dropped, for better or worse, to put an end to things. And as Malaysians, we know what the Japanese soldiers did to us way back in the 40s when they conquered our country. Because of various reasons, both truth and media propaganda, the Japs – not Japanese people/culture in general, cause bitch please sushi is the bomb; but Japanese soldiers of the past – are painted as antagonistic, vile animals who would rape, torture, murder and burn your house down. In no particular order.
But here we have a story told from the Japanese perspective. What if those so-called vile animals had families of their own too? What if they had kids and wives? One of their wives is the central character in this film. A regular civilian who works a paint brush in such a way, Da Vinci would smile in his grave. Which brings me to the next interesting thing about the film. This is a war film that is told not from the perspective of the soldiers on the battlefield but rather, through the lens of a regular civilian, Suzu, voiced by Non. This is her journey. A journey of an 18-year-old girl whose marriage was arranged to a Navy. A great line from Arrival comes to mind: In war there are no winners, only widows. Whether or not Suzu becomes a widow, you’ll have to watch and find out. But this movie does a great job showing how much we, the regular civilians would suffer during times of war. And how we’re nothing more than pawns on a chessboard.
Director Sunao Katabuchi – Mai Mai Miracle – uses gripping imagery to tell an otherwise simple story. For such a simple, realistic movie, there are times where it feels surreal; almost dreamlike. And I mean that as a compliment. There is a scene that happens somewhere towards the end, that my immediate reaction was, “Hmm. They should have shown it explicitly.” But as this short scene plays out, I found myself shedding tears of agony. Katabuchi did it. And I don’t know how. It’s a very unorthodox method of letting a scene play out. Not to mention, a huge risk. It kinda reminded me of the blackboard scene in FX’s Legion, except this was much more difficult to pull off. From a visual standpoint, this is filmmaking at its very best.
So, if all I’ve been doing for the past 577 words is sing praises about this movie, then why did I say it’s not for me?
The pacing is painfully slow.
Heard of Ex Machina? The movie moves slower than Stephen Hawking attempting to cross the road without his wheelchair. The entirety of the movie takes place in a house/research centre with only three individuals living in it, one of which is a robot. For the most part, these individuals are talking to each other in various rooms. Sometimes they’re seen sleeping. Other times just sorta staring into blank space. And, it’s one of my favourite movies of 2015. Every single moment kept me salivating for more. Alex Garland crafted his masterpiece in such way that every scene felt, for the lack of a better word, stressful. It may be two individuals talking, but every second you think to yourself, “I wonder where this is gonna go?” “I wonder what’s gonna happen to the characters.”
In This Corner of the World had moments like that too. In one scene, the now married, Suzu meets up with her childhood friend and crush, and invites him over for dinner with her husband and in-laws. We see him teasing her and flirting with her. And while this has absolutely nothing to do with the larger picture AKA the dropping of the atomic bomb that we know the movie is leading towards, it’s interesting and intriguing. “Will Suzu flirt back?” The sexual tension builds. “Will they do it?” “And if they do, will her husband find out.” Drama and humour strung together by excellent lines of dialogue written by Sunao Katabuchi make this series of sequences one of the best, if not the best in the film. Scenes like this showcase how one can take a sorta everyday mundane occurrence and turn it into something engaging.
However, lacking in style, drama, tension, comedy or remotely interesting dialogue, In This Corner of the World is bogged down by a crap ton of everyday occurrences that are JUST that. I don’t give a damn about Suzu sewing a Kimono in a sequence that felt like it lasted 15 minutes. I don’t need to see Suzu getting lost in a market and then trying to find her way back. WTF? Who cares? It would be something if these scenes actually added something to the characters. But it didn’t. I love movies in which characters don’t just do stuff for the sake of the plot, but rather because they’re written as if they’re actual, real-life human beings. In fact, a lot of movies lack that. But there are a lot of scenes in this film that didn’t do much to add anything to the characters AT ALL. Both the Kimono scene and the market scene could have been completely removed from the film and it wouldn’t have hampered anything. This is a 2-hour movie that feels like a 3-hour movie but should have been a 90 minutes movie.
Through this film, Sunao Katabuchi has shown that he’s a damn good director. The World War II story is something we’ve seen time and time again. But Katabuchi provides us with a fresh perspective, allowing us to see the other side of the coin. With its stunning visuals, this could have been a great film. It SHOULD have been a great film. But the script could have used some serious vetting. The lack of restraint on Katabuchi’s end comes back to bite him in the ass. Because it doesn’t matter how interesting the premise is if I found myself checking my phone (something that I NEVER do) over and over again.