As a Tokyo-based writer, I will introduce you to various aspects of pop culture such as manga, anime, movies and music. I want to spread the joy of Japanese pop culture around the world.
Hi everyone, this is Mokugyo, the manga-and-anime-loving writer from MANGA.TOKYO. In 2016, Kimi no Na wa (Your Name) became the biggest hit in the Japanese anime film history. This movie was truly a great, entertaining story. There was, however, another movie which gained a lot of attention at the same time as Kimi no Na wa. That movie is Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni (In This Corner of the World). Although the movie was first released in just a few theaters, the excellence of the film was widely spread by word of mouth and online reviews. Today, I would like to introduce to you this spectacular movie, Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni, which was released in November 2016 and is still continuing its run until today.
Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni is originally a manga series written by Fumiyo Kouno. It took six years for this manga’s anime film adaptation to be completed.
The story takes place in Kure City, Hiroshima Prefecture, during World War II. On August 6, 1945, the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima City. It is estimated that about 140,000 people were killed by this most dreadful nuclear weapon. On August 15 of the same year, Japan surrendered. Japan is the only country in the world that has suffered an atomic bombing. This is a fact that we shall never forget. Kure is a city close to Hiroshima City, so the movie illustrates the devastating situations caused by the nuclear bombing.
The protagonist Suzu is a woman who loves to draw. She grew up in Hiroshima City, and in 1944 she marries into the Houjou family who live in Kure City. Because of its naval port, Kure becomes a target of many bomb attacks. The people are always frightened about the next air raid, and there is hardly anything to eat. Even in such a dire situation, Suzu never forgets her positive feelings, and tries to live a fulfilling life exerting her originality and ingenuity.
The movie was first shown from November 2016 in only 63 theaters throughout Japan. In time, the movie’s fame spread by word of mouth, and it was shown in more theaters. It is still shown in theaters today and has become a long-running hit. The movie has been released in more than 300 theaters, and its box-office revenues have surpassed 2 billion yen. It has already been decided that it will be released in more than 20 other countries, and it has become a movie loved by many fans.
One of the most famous anime movies which takes place in Japan during the Second World War is Grave of the Fireflies (Hotaru no Haka). The director of this film is Isao Takahata, who is also well known for directing The Tale of the Princess Kaguya (Kaguyahime no Monogatari) and Pom Poko (Heisei Tanuki Gassen Pom Poko). Grave of the Fireflies is a story which takes place in Hyogo Prefecture at the end of World War II. It is a story about a 14-year-old boy and his 4-year-old sister who try to live alone without any relatives to rely on. It is a very well-known movie, for it is broadcast on TV almost every year near August 15, the day on which WWII ended. Studio Ghibli is famous for its entertaining fantasy movies such as Spirited Away (Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi) and Kiki’s Delivery Service (Majo no Takkyuubin), but I strongly recommend you to watch Grave of the Fireflies which is also a masterpiece.
In this film, the lives of children during wartime were illustrated in great detail. The animation in Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni has a softer touch than in Grave of the Fireflies, so I think even people who are not great fans of war movies will be able to watch the film. Also, the main characters in Grave of the Fireflies were a brother and a sister, young children who had lost their parents, so the movie illustrates how their living situation worsened every day. On the other hand, Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni has a more positive atmosphere. Although the problem of food shortage becomes more severe, Suzu and the people around her are adults who try to fulfill their lives by figuring out creative ways to handle the situation. Both movies are about wartime, but the latter expresses a feeling of hope.
Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni was directed by Sunao Katabuchi, who gained fame with his 2009 movie Mai Mai Shinko to Sennen no Mahou (Mai Mai Miracle). This movie was about Shinko, an imaginative girl who grows up always daydreaming about a town from a thousand years ago. The movie seemed plain and was not so fashionable, so it was not a success at the box office. However, it was highly appraised by those who had seen it. After the great hit of Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni, it was announced that Mai Mai Miracle will get a revival and will be shown at theaters in the future.
Director Katabuchi has mentioned that he first started making Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni with only three other members of staff. At first, not many people were interested in the project because they believed a plain war movie would not attract the public. However, Katabuchi’s enthusiasm and strong feelings towards the movie had gradually reached many peoples’ hearts, and he decided to gather money via crowdfunding. Surprisingly, over 3,000 people joined the fundraising, gathering more than 39 million yen. This became the highest amount of money collected via fund raising in the history of Japanese film making. Crowdfunding is still a new and unfamiliar method for the Japanese people. This was another aspect which made the movie ‘new’ in Japan.
The protagonist of this movie is Suzu, a woman who tries to survive during wartime. The voice of Suzu was played by Non, a very famous young Japanese actress.
Non first made her debut as an actress using her real name, Rena Nounen. She became publicly known for playing the protagonist in Ama-chan, a great hit drama in 2013. It is no exaggeration to say that almost every Japanese citizen came to know her after this drama. It seemed as if her life as an actress was becoming successful, but trouble arose between her and the production company she belonged to. For some time, she neither appeared on TV or movie theaters. However, in July 2016, she changed her name to Non, and she started her new actress life. Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni became her first work using her new name.
In the movie, Suzu is a peaceful and easygoing character. Non is also very famous for being free and easy, going at her own pace. Non’s voice was a perfect match for Suzu’s character.
In Japan, because there are many fans of voice actors, some people are not happy with actors from TV dramas having roles in anime. There are quite a few anime fans who feel that, ‘Voice actors are very experienced and talented people who dub the voices, so it’s a silly idea to use drama actors in anime films just to get public attention.’ It was Non’s first time voicing an anime film. If she was not good at the voice recording, she probably would have been severely criticized by anime fans. However, there was hardly any criticism, and many people praised Non’s voice for being a perfect match for the movie. By fully utilizing her acting skills, Non was able to breathe life into Suzu.
Although Non is a very popular actress, she has not been on TV or movies for the past few years. Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni became the movie in which Non was finally able to come back into the spotlight. We can definitely say that Non played a big role in the movie gaining this much fame.
Director Katabuchi was 56 years old when Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni was released. Of course, he was not yet born when World War II was occurring. However, he gathered many resources and thoroughly researched the lives of wartime people. One fascinating factor of the movie is how the world of 70 years ago is illustrated in great detail.
Let’s take an example of the billboards within the movie. In Japan today, we read letters from left to right, but in those days, it was normal to read from right to left. Therefore, the billboards in the movie were also drawn so the words are read from right to left.
Another important point is that the movie accurately illustrates the city of Hiroshima before it was severely damaged by the atomic bomb, based on the documents left in Hiroshima. For example, at the beginning of the movie, there is a scene in which Suzu looks through a telescope. The barbershop drawn in the background is a store which actually existed in the past. On top of this, the man and the child who are illustrated in front of the barbershop were also people who lived in the past that lost their lives in the atomic attack.
The movie also illustrates in great detail the food that people ate in those days. There is a scene in which the characters are cooking in a pot, and they add grass growing from the ground in the pot because they have no other food to eat.
There are very few people today who know about the life in Japan 70 years ago. The movie lets the viewers learn about life during wartime Japan, and keeps it in their memories.
Although the economy of Japan is still in recession, our world today is much richer in resources compared to the end of WWII. The Japanese society which exists today was established by the people who lived through the war.
Movies which illustrate wartime tend to become very serious and gloomy. Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni is no exception, and there are sad scenes where you feel inclined to turn away. However, the film is also filled with the feeling of hope. The characters try to enrich their lives by being positive even under extreme circumstances. It is a movie I would recommend to all anime fans and movie fans who live overseas. Such war movies play an important role in Japanese anime culture.