In This Corner of the World (4 stars)

In This Corner of the World

Beautifully rendered Japanese animation that takes a sensitive look at World War II

In films such as Barefoot Gen and Grave of the Fireflies, Japanese animation has explored World War II to frequently exalted, often harrowing effect. Sunao Katabuchi's adaptation of Fumiyo Kōno's manga comfortably joins their revered ranks, though it's very much its own personal story. Navigating between the seaport of Kure and a small town in Hiroshima, Katabuchi focuses on Suzu (voiced by Non, real name Rena Nōnen), a young female artist and 'daydreamer' jolted awake when the landscapes she paints so beautifully are battered by bombing campaigns.

After a wistful prologue depicting Suzu's childhood, much of the film spotlights her arranged marriage in 1944 at age 18. More time is spent on cooking, customising kimonos and family dynamics than conflict, to gently charming, warmly humanist effect. On occasion, the war's impact registers with disarmingly droll wit: when military police suspect dreamy Suzu of espionage, her in-laws chuckle at the very idea.

The limpid beauty of the animation supports this air of near-whimsy, making it all the more devastating when death drops from the skies. The air-raids shake the screen and lacerate lives; one particularly agonising loss plunges Suzu into a spiral of self-recrimination and raw pain from which it seems she can never recover.

The gesture of forgiveness that points the way forward for Suzu imbues the film with tremendous heart, much-needed when a flash in the sky on 6 August 1945 intensifies characters' agonies. The fallout is no less nightmarish for being viewed at a slight remove over one-too-many endings, though Katabuchi finds ways to emphasise themes of resilience and generosity in the face of the unendurable. What emerges is an exquisitely rendered, sensitively told study of survival during wartime, couched in minutely observed day-to-day details that slowly bring the title's significance into deeply tender, poignant focus.

General release from Wed 28 Jun.

In This Corner of the World

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • Japan
  • 2h 8min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Sunao Katabuchi
  • Cast: Non, Megumi Han, Yoshimasa Hosoya (voices)
  • UK release: 28 June 2017

Suzu (Non) is a young female artist living in Japan during WW2, who is jolted from her daydreams by bombing campaigns, culminating in the attack on Hiroshima. Exquisitely rendered study of survival in wartime, all the more effective for focusing on day-to-day details.