The Other Side of Animation 101: In This Corner of the World Review

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With Hayao Miyazaki coming back for one more film, and a huge slew of teen/young adult-focused animated dramas coming out of Japan, Japanese animation is a big deal. There are a few directors that everyone should be following or watching their work. You have, of course, Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, but you also have Mamoru Hosoda, Kenji Kamiyama, Hiroyuki Okiura, Masaaki Yuasa, and of course, Makoto Shinkai. There are definitely others that should be on your radar, but I’m going to be talking about one director today, Sunao Katabuchi. His contributions to the anime/animation scene can be considered not as big as some of the others I listed above, but he has left his print on certain products, like the popular Black Lagoon series, the award-winning Mai Mai Miracle, Princess Arete, and a film that is the focus of today’s review, In This Corner of the World. This animated film, based on a manga, was released last year to critical and wide-spread acclaim, bringing home multiple awards, and winning the Jury Prize at the 2017 Annecy Film Festival. It was then picked up and distributed over here in the states by Shout! Factory and Funimation. So, how is it? Well, let’s dive in.

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The story follows our female lead, Suzu, voiced by Laura Post, an innocent-minded individual who loves painting/art while living in her town of Eba. We follow her when she is a child through the rough times of marriage with her husband Shusaku, voiced by Todd Haberkorn, family problems on both sides, and of course, World War II. Can she find a way to get through this horrific couple of years? What will happen between her, her husband, and her two families?

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So, I know my plot summary sounded a bit half-baked, but I would consider this film to be closer to a Japanese-animated film from last year, Miss Hokusai. I compare In This Corner of the World to Miss Hokusai, because the story of In This Corner of the World is less structured, and is more about smaller sub-stories of Suzu and her life in Japan during the war. The film’s main theme is about resilience during such rough times. It’s different than other Japanese World War II films, like Grave of the Fireflies, where it was all about the consequence of pride battling against coming to terms with the times. Throughout In This Corner of the World, Suzu is constantly challenged with different obstacles, like how to keep meals going when shortages happen, dealing with the interactions with her in-laws, and the occasional bombing. You might see the lush and soft watercolor art style and shorter designs as this film is being something more innocent and romantic. Yeah, don’t be caught off-guard by the art style. This film has some incredibly savage moments of pure raw emotion. They do not hide the fact that this film takes place in a very specific part of Japan. The film actually has a very haunting note to it, because from time to time, they will show off the date of the month and year, and if you know anything about history, you know sooner or later, something is going to drop. The film will not leave these characters untouched or consequence-free by the war, and just because it looks more family-friendly, doesn’t mean you should ignore the fact that this is a war movie. The film does a mostly good job at pacing out the tougher and more loving moments. It’s not just depressing moment after depressing moment. Not to say that a film about war can’t be like that, since, well, it is war, but In This Corner of the World is meant to be more optimistic and hopeful in terms of its goal, and I think it succeeds. You care about the characters, and you want them to be okay. It makes it all the more emotional when something bad happens.

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The animation is beautiful. I love that they went with a more watercolor style that really makes this film stand out along with the character designs. In an age where a lot of anime is becoming more and more homogenous with its designs, it’s nice to see a film take a risk and look different. I don’t even find the designs to be distracting, due to the fact that you will see some horrific stuff happen. The film even takes some moments to be artsy, and it doesn’t come off as pretentious or trying too hard to be more. In terms of the dub of this film, I thought it was pretty good. The crew of Laura Post, Todd Haberkorn, Barbara Goodson, Kirk Thornton, and Kira Buckland did a good job capturing the emotion and performance of the characters.

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If I had to complain about something about the film, there are some small gripes. There was one scene where I feel like the dub team couldn’t find a way to get around the fact that a character is saying “I can recognize your accent is different, and not from here” when everyone is speaking English, but it’s still distracting. I also feel like there are some moments where the story has characters for very specific reasons. It’s a Miss Hokusai situation, so you probably know what I’m talking about. While I do love the overall film, sometimes, the really dramatic moments feel a bit odd in terms of pacing. Right before the film ends, they have another bomb drop, and show a little girl walking with her mother who was pretty much dead, and it felt odd because it came right after a very touching and emotional scene between Suzu and her husband. It ends on a good note, but it felt “off” to me.

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For now, In This Corner of the World is my favorite animated film of 2017. It’s touching, beautiful, wonderfully animated, emotionally gripping, and a really fantastic film. Since there is so much concern about how the Best Animated Feature will pan out, I think it’s time for the smaller releases to get some recognition, since let’s be real, the only big animated film to win this year will be Coco. If you love animated films that are more complex than what you get with most big-budget animated films, then please find a way to watch In This Corner of the World or buy it when it comes out on DVD. It’s one of my favorites of the year, in a year with some amazing small-scale animated films. Well, it’s been two years since I have started reviewing animated films. It’s time to look at something special. I think I’ll keep what it might be a secret. Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed the article, and I will see you all next time!

Rating: Criterion/Essentials