My patrons know me well. I knew nothing about In This Corner of the World going in, and I was delighted to discover that it’s something akin to an animated Nobuhiko Obayashi film. Besides the obvious medium-mixing creating stylistic parallels, its primary concerns — of the rough transition from wartime Japan to peacetime and the impact of the atomic bomb on the national psyche — also appear in a large number of Obayashi works. There are particular scenes that feel directly inspired by comments and observations made by Obayashi in interviews. I don’t know enough about the film’s production to say whether or not it was directly inspired by him, but the connections seem quite strong to me.
As I said, the most obvious similarities are stylistic. In This Corner of the World tends towards the straightforward for long stretches of its runtime, broken up by instances of war violence and tragedy. It’s mostly in these dramatic breaks where the film introduces a playful inclination to mix mediums. Obayashi, of course, does this with more directly cinematic elements like color palettes and green-screen. This film, being animated, uses watercolors and crayons and splotchy acrylics. At first it seems to disguise the violence being depicted through a childlike lens. As the film goes on, though, it seems more that it represents a necessary psychological distancing on the part of the central characters from the attacks they are subjected to. Viewing something through an abstracted lens makes the horrors easier to stomach, not for us the audience but for them the characters. It’s a graceful touch, and one that grants the film new emotional depth.
It’s thematically, too, that the film recalls Obayashi. In a recent interview about his latest film, Hanagatami, the director recalled having been told as a child by his neighbor that if Japan ever lost the war, the man would gladly help young Obayashi honorably kill himself. There was an ingrained notion in his generation that the country would rather commit mass suicide than allow itself to be conquered. When Japan didn’t just lose, but surrendered, Obayashi was surprised to learn that such an event never came. People just went on with their lives. He said he felt betrayed by the older generation, not because he wanted to die, but because he felt they had misled him into a nationalistic fervor that would never be followed through on. I saw this reflected in main character Suzu’s outburst of fury upon learning of Japan’s surrender. She lost most of her family and one of her hands to the war, only for her country to (from her perspective) decide none of it was worth it.
In This Corner of the World isn’t so didactic that I’d call it an anti-war film. Obayashi tends to be much plainer about his intentions in this regard, even as his style trends much further towards the avant-garde. There’s no broad moral lesson imparted by this film. Instead, it ends on a note of quiet hope. War takes everything from us, but once it’s over, perhaps we can pick up the pieces. Perhaps post-war life is not just possible but necessary, a societal obligation. We are responsible for picking one another out of the rubble and learning how to live together again. In This Corner of the World is a sweet, gentle, and elegantly made film. It’s one I foresee sticking with me for some time.