In this Corner of the World is a Japanese anime based on a manga of the same name that will play in American theaters as part of a distribution deal with Shout! Factory and Funimation Films. The story revolves around a recently married young woman named Suzu Urano (Rena “Non” Nōnen) who struggles to live with her husband’s family in the small town of Kure in Hiroshima as it is quickly becoming the target of multiple air raids in World War II. Admittingly, I haven’t watched much anime outside of two or three old Studio Ghibli films and the late Saturday night Cartoon Network programming block Toonami when it aired in the mid-to-late 2000s; therefore, I didn’t go into In this Corner of the World knowing much outside of the intriguing premise, and what I saw was honestly quite disappointing.
The movie works best in the more technical areas such as animation and sound design. It’s terrific as far as hand-drawn animation and computer rendering goes. More complex shots such as a lingering one of a moving train track do appear as slightly off, but they’re few and far between for a 2D animated movie with a production budget of $2.2 million in American currency. Sound design on the other hand is where In this Corner of the World surprised me the most; certain sound effects such as explosions and gunshots add layers to this low-budget animated movie that’s simple on a surface level. The direction and editing are both fine with the exception of scenes where the war takes center stage, but many of those don’t occur until much later on. One of the main reasons In this Corner of the World is at least above average is that it depicts World War II-era Japan extremely well. To clarify, this movie isn’t Japanese because the characters just so happen to speak that language, but rather because it presents the culture incredibly well from the variety of on-screen locations to the food that people eat; these small details give much-needed realism to an animated period piece of this sort.
Conversely, the flaws of In this Corner of the World begin to materialize through its characters. In terms of performances, each Japanese voice actor excels in their respective roles, even in a different language. However, my main issues with the characters come down to the noticeable lack of development that they all receive. In fact, the film doesn’t flesh out Suzu through certain moments and instead takes the much less effective Boyhood approach showing increments of her life in chronological order; she does become more interesting towards the end, but we as an audience should already have investment in the main character when a movie reaches its third act. Suzu does have relationships with other characters, but they aren’t developed enough for me to actually care about them.
By far, my biggest concerns with In this Corner of the World come down to the writing. The pacing is terrible, especially at a 128-minute runtime. The movie starts in 1933 when it should’ve started either in the beginning or middle of the war; everything that happens beforehand is basically filler. Speaking of World War II, those scenes were arguably my favorite because of how emotional they often are and because they remind me of how great this movie could’ve been. A similar criticism with In this Corner of the World regards its inconsistent tone: several scenes feel way too lighthearted and free of consequence, especially when one of the biggest turning points (SPOILER) is America dropping the atom bomb; now that could’ve been the filmmakers’ intention, but these scenes don’t do the best job at communicating it to the audience, which is another reason why they should’ve been removed entirely. Additionally, the dialogue, while sometimes humorous, can often come off as downright cheesy and that isn’t great considering how dialogue-driven the movie is. Sunao Katabuchi, the co-writer and director of In this Corner of the World, reportedly worked close with animation legend Hayao Miyazaki and this movie contains subtle hints of his work since it deals with mature themes not usually seen in animated movies, but it’s mostly just missed potential. In this Corner of the World has another writer on board in the form of Chie Uratani and he still didn’t do a good job at expanding on Katabuchi’s ideas, so he probably didn’t have much final say in the project.
Verdict: 3 out of 5
One word I would use to describe In this Corner of the World is tedious. It’s a visually stunning movie excelling more through animation than characters and writing. Anime fans will surely enjoy this movie while everyone else should wait for Redbox.