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Family Movie Review: In This Corner of the World (PG-13)

Kernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernal (3 out of 5)

MPAA Rating: PG-13       Length: 129 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 12+. This animated film set in Japan focuses on the life of a young woman who comes of age during World War II, marrying early and attempting to figure out how she fits into her new husband’s family. The film ratchets up the anxiety and intensity as it progresses, with air raid sirens, fighter planes bombing villages, explosions, destroyed buildings, the dropping of the nuclear bomb, and characters who either die or are gravely injured. Although this is an animated film, the images are still sometimes shocking, including one scene in which a young child doesn’t understand that her mother, depicted briefly as a decaying corpse, has died. Also a couple of romantic subplots, some kissing and implied sex scenes, and bullying.

The animated ‘In This Corner of the World’ follows a Japanese girl’s coming of age in Hiroshima during World War II. Although often beautifully animated and deeply sad, the film struggles to maintain a steady pace or provide enough detail to its characters.

By Roxana Hadadi

InThisCornerOfTheWorld ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewWith summer winding down, animated films that are worth watching are few and far between; “The Emoji Movie” and “The Nut Job 2: Nutty by Nature” are both profoundly skippable. For older viewers, “In This Corner of the World” is a worthwhile break from the norm, a Japanese animated film adapted from a popular manga that boasts evocative hand-drawn animation and emotionally insightful storytelling.

Most American moviegoers are probably best acquainted with Japanese animated films in the mold of Studio Ghibli, with releases that explore Japanese folklore and supernatural elements and focus on young, often female, protagonists: “When Marnie Was There,” “The Tale of the Princess Kaguya,” “From Up on Poppy Hill,” “The Wind Rises,” and “The Secret World of Arrietty.” But “In This Corner of the World” isn’t a Studio Ghibli release, and its ambitions—in following the life of a young woman who comes of age during World War II—are more practical than fanciful.

It is still often deeply sad (and in that way, is actually quite similar to those Studio Ghibli films), and this melancholy is rooted in history: in the violence of the war and in the bombing of Hiroshima, told from the point of view of a young Japanese girl trying to find her place. “In This Corner of the World” is quite effective in portraying the thoughts, desires, and fears of its protagonist, 18-year-old Suzu (voiced by Rena Nounen). But its flaws are its sense of time, which moves drastically forward without an engaging flow, and its other characters, most of whom could have used additional character development to feel fully imagined.

The film begins in December 1933, when Suzu Urano is still just a child—horribly bullied by her brother, prone to elaborate daydreams, crushing on a classmate, and often sketching imaginative scenes in her journal—but the years quickly pass until she is a teenager. Seemingly out of nowhere, as soon as she turns 18 years old, a boy she doesn’t know asks for her hand in marriage, and Suzu accepts. Barely an adult, she moves from her family home in Hiroshima to Shūsaku’s (voiced by Yoshimasa Hosoya) family home in Kure, where she spends more time preparing food, cleaning, and doing chores than getting to know the man she’s married.

As the years pass and World War II progresses, what is Suzu’s life in Kure? Her days revolve around cooking meals with increasingly sparse rations (stretching recipes with what she calls her “food increase method”); caring for her sister-in-law’s young daughter, Harumi (voiced by Natsuki Inaba), with whom she has an instant bond; and waiting for Shūsaku to arrive home from his naval service so they can become more acquainted. And as Kure is bombed more often, with homes destroyed, people missing, and the beautiful landscape ruined, Suzu tries to understand it all—not only through her artwork, which captures the desperation of their situation, but through her relationships with Shūsaku and his family. “I want you to stay ordinary and sane in this world until the end,” her childhood crush says to her, but that’s easier said than done in a war zone.

The most frustrating element of “In This Corner of the World” is how it handles time. Some scenes are barely a few minutes along, and the whiplash speed of the film’s opening half makes it difficult for viewers to gain their bearings in their narrative. In contrast, the second half of the film, as the war becomes more intense, uses that frenzied pacing effectively to demonstrate the confusion of the air raids and the evacuation orders. It makes for an uneasy rhythm that feels like the film is trying to tell too much story in too little time, aiming for quantity of scenes rather than worthwhile character development. That issue extends to the film’s depictions of Shūsaku and Suzu’s childhood crush, Mizuhara (voiced by Daisuke Ono), who are defined primarily in their interest in Suzu and less as their own individuals. It would have been welcome to have either character, both of whom serve in the Japanese Navy during the war, more realized for varied perspectives.

Still, this is a film primarily about Suzu’s emotional and physical journey, and “In This Corner of the World” traces that well, paying attention to how her childhood innocence and optimistic energy curdled into depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and eventually flourished again into resilience. Coupled with gorgeous imagery of the Japanese countryside, Suzu’s transformation makes for often poignant—if irredeemably uneven—viewing.

Interested in a previously released film? Read our reviews of films already showing in your local theater.

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