The anime movie Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni (In This Corner of the World) is currently showing in theaters. This is the first movie directed by Sunao Katabuchi since his famous Mai Mai Shinko no Sennen no Maho (Mai Mai Miracle) back in 2009. Based on the manga of the same name by Fumiyo Kono, the movie makes use of thorough background research to illustrate the daily life of protagonist Suzu and her family and friends. It is set in the naval port city of Kure in Hiroshima Prefecture during World War II.
Funds for the movie were raised through a crowdfunding campaign in 2015. The campaign successfully raised the target of ¥20 million within the first 8 days. At the end, a record-breaking ¥39,121,920 was raised thanks to a total of 3374 excited supporters and fans. People were also talking about the casting for the leading role of actress Non (Real name: Rena Nounen) from the hugely popular TV drama Amachan.
In this interview with Director Katabuchi, we will cover the details of the making of the movie as well as its concepts and the way they are expressed.
[Interview: Tsukasa Takase]
[Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni]
Released In Japan on Saturday November 12, 2016
The time of the war is inseparable from today
First of all, could you tell me what your first impression was when you read the original manga by Fumiyo Kono? Although this was based on her work, it seems like Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni somehow has the taste of everything you’ve created thus far such as Meiken Lassie, Princess Arete, Black Lagoon, and Mai Mai Miracle.
Sunao Katabuchi (Katabuchi)
I agree. I first read the manga after my previous work, Mai Mai Miracle. It may sound arrogant, but I felt like she seemed to be very similar to me. It’s like running into a relative who didn’t know about me [laugh]. Kono did thorough research on historic backgrounds, paid a lot of attention to the nuances of everyday life, and expressed them in various ways. I was surprised with how she created her manga: it was in the same way I would have tried or the way I always wanted to try.
You just explained some points of the movie. In fact, the movie consists of colorful layers. It could be a serious war movie, a slice of life story around Suzu Hojo (Suzu Urano) or a documentary on cultural customs. So, what did you try to prioritize the most?
For me, describing Suzu and her daily life came first, and the war was just part of the background. Originally, I found it very interesting to focus on illustrating everyday life in animation, but some people may have found it a little boring. If the story had war in the background as a negative light source, the ordinary everyday life could possibly shine even brighter in contrast to the darkness. I didn’t have a clear purpose to illustrate the war at that time.
It wasn’t long after the beginning of the movie production when the Tohoku Earthquake occurred. Producer Masao Maruyama is from Miyagi and his family grave was destroyed by the earthquake. I also knew a few people who were forced to go through tough times. When I think of it, these ordinary people may have not been actively involved in that war, but they experienced war-like damage. So, the 2011 earthquake and the 1945 destruction are similar to the suffering victims…and I can feel closer and relate to the everyday life during the wartime, rather than it just being something that happened a long time ago.
Does that mean that you were seeing this movie as post-earthquake?
I’d say that it gradually grew that way. First, the world of 1945 seemed far beyond our imagination. The world that we would be able to imagine could only go back to somewhere around 1955 at most as in Mai Mai Miracle. So, I assumed that the two worlds, that of 1955 and that of 1945, were totally different.
However, while I was doing some research for Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni, I happened to hear about the stories of people in neighboring areas bringing food, bedding, and diapers to the victims attacked by the terrible air raids. Empathy is universal, and that these people did 70 years ago was the same as what we did to the victims who suffered in March 2011. When you think of the situation, it was remarkable for people to help each other during a time when goods were scarce. After learning that, I truly felt that 1945 wasn’t that far from where we are now, and the feelings of people haven’t changed that much. That’s why, even though the original work didn’t have such scenes, I decided to include some extra scenes in the movie that really happened in Kure and Hiroshima around that time.
Can you please give me some examples of such scenes?
There are lots…for example, close to the end of the war the Japanese Army wanted to stop radio propaganda broadcasts, including the ‘Announcement from the Imperial General Headquarters!’ Everyone was suffering already from the losing battle and the army knew there was no point in exaggerating uncounted achievements to inspire ordinary citizens. No more battle cries…and the army even suggested alternatives to the NHL (Japan Broadcasting Corporation), such as a hilarious comedy show. Moreover, ordinary listeners began to request the use of a female voice instead of a male one to announce air raid warnings. The male voice was too threatening. Then, the NHK Hiroshima Branch began radio broadcasting with a female voice from August 1, 1945. That’s why we asked Nao Yagi, a female announcer from Nippon Cultural Broadcasting, to act in the radio scenes in the movie. That broadcast lasted only from August 1 to August 6, because the radio station itself was destroyed by the atomic bomb.
The research that you went into such detail with is amazing, and it actually disproves the stereotype associated with Japan during the war, doesn’t it?
We somehow have this biased view that people spoke in an intimidating manner or constantly tried to force encouragement during the war. However, that was not the case…and I realized that even the Japanese military authority stuck to common sense to a certain extent. Just by knowing such facts, don’t you feel a little bit more like you can relate to the war-time people and that the war didn’t actually happen so long ago?
When you see statistical data of rationing, the number of items for Kure in December, 1944 was much greater than usual. That was because the official body tried to supply new traditional Japanese socks and textile fabrics for the new year, so that everyone could welcome the new year wearing tidy clothing. Even though everything was in short supply, the authority was looking after its people. The feelings are the same, and knowing that they don’t change easily enables us to connect to the past.
You are saying the time back then and today are inseparable.
That’s right…and Suzu-san embodies the connection between these two worlds. Suzu-san believes that she lives an ordinary life during the war. She was basically representing a sense of their everyday life then.
On the other hand, I think Non-san successfully captured Suzu-san’s charm. The casting was great and could’t get any better. When did you first spot Non-san?
I believe it was a TV drama called Kagi no Kakatta Heya (The Locked Room Murders) in 2012. After that, I saw the protagonist Aki Amano in the first episode of Amachan in 2013…and that’s when it hit me ‘Oh, that’s her!’ She was the main girl, but hardly spoke. She had a slight stoop. On top of that, she was supposed to be a high school girl in the show, but only seemed to be in junior high school instead…then, I heard that she was actually 19 years old. In Kagi no Kakatta Heya, she was only 18 when she played as a legal secretary as well as a university graduate…
So, Aki was a well-suited role for her, but I somehow felt a bit strange about it. One day, I happened to hear Non-chan say, ‘Aki Amano is a weirdo’, and I finally got why. It is now clear to me that Non-chan was perfect for that role, of course, but because of her strong and unshakable self, she could establish roles like a secretary or a high school girl that require her to be both older and younger than her actual age.
I was hoping to find someone who can act Suzu-san in a way that everyone could say, ‘Oh, yes. This is so Suzu-san.’ However, at the same time I needed someone to portray Suzu-san as a comedienne who is cheerful and can make people laugh all the time. So, when I put these together, Non-chan was definitely the one. I honestly get confused sometimes with who is talking, Non-chan or Suzu-san [laugh]. This is what she really does through her acting…and yet, I’m certain that there are some similarities in Non-chan’s personality and Suzu-san’s character.
Feeling like Suzu is really there
Next, I’d like to ask you about the techniques you used. To complete the background art of Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni, you did an extremely thorough investigation and a detailed historical research. So, what was the advantage of using such a production style, in terms of expression?
In animation it is more difficult to see any unintentional coincidence on-screen because it’s not a live action version. However, it can be possible if it is modeled after reality. It doesn’t matter what the writer intends. We can’t change what seems to be real, and it allows something beyond our imagination to take part. In addition, I wanted to include the sensation of a real Suzu-san. Suzu-san didn’t live in a fantasy world, but she was walking in a real town doing whatever she was doing. With that feeling, we could physically go to a real shop, Taishoya Gofukuten Kimono fabrics shop, still standing at the exact spot where Suzu-san used to lean against. Of course, she didn’t really lean against there, but hopefully, people would feel as if Suzu-san was there for real.
Does that mean to make the movie more realistic?
Not quite. It’s more about picturing Suzu-san as a real person and bringing out her natural presence into our reality. Suzu-san deviates from being a story character and becomes a part of reality…that’s what I was hoping for while working on this. This is where that background comes in.
Was there anything else where you made extra effort in order to make her presence vivid?
I tried not to limit myself to traditional techniques always employed in the making of animations in Japan. For example, every movement is followed by a pause in regular animation, whereas movements never stop in our movie. In addition, we purposely illustrated unnoticeable behaviors or tiny body movements we could see in every ordinary person. We also paid extra attention on in-between animation by creating many more in-betweens than usual to avoid a typical pattern of anime acting. I believe that helps to make Suzu san more natural.
Everything from the backgrounds and the animation to the voices is necessary to bring out the vivid presence of Suzu-san. I simply want to believe that Suzu san is real [laugh]. My work in the past also focused on how valuable the nuances of everyday life were. The difference in Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni is that the person living and experiencing the nuances of everyday life, Suzu-san, seems to be naturally existing in reality. Illustrating her this way is valuable to me, and this is what I believed throughout the production.
The world without a camera
There is one more thing…Impressively, you captured all the shots in pan-focus. Of course, you used pan-focus for long shots, but it was even used for close-ups. In recent years for TV anime, people employ an approach of the basic ‘looking through a lens’ effect, but the camera approach in this movie is totally different.
You’re right. I just felt that the pictures in this manga by Kono-san didn’t want us to use such an approach. I didn’t feel any camera presence there. When we see an object, it is natural for the front of the object to be out of focused. It’s human nature, so we are not really conscious about it. However, you’d notice the blurriness in the foreground and the background of the object when you take a photo with a camera. For example, a painter from the 17th century called Vermeer is known for his ‘out-of-focus’ effect in the foreground of objects. People say that he might have used a camera obscura to project an actual scene onto a canvass while working on his art. In other words, people recognize whether it’s in focus or not when there is presence of a camera, and I didn’t think Kono-san’s manga has that sort of presence.
Has it anything to do with having more fix shots?
I used considerably less camerawork compared to that in Mai Mai Miracle. In Mai Mai Miracle, the camera followed the protagonist Shinko, even if that was for a tiny movement. However, this time, if we need to apply panning, then we may as well do camera blocking from the beginning…that’s how it was…I mean we changed to that way halfway through. At the beginning, I was working on the storyboards in the same way as I did for Mai Mai Miracle. However, as I developed them, I started to feel like something was not right. Then, I began to wonder if it was because of the absence of a camera.
I noticed there are many high-angle shots, too.
In the original manga, I also noticed the high-angle views. Kono-san appears to intentionally describe the scenes just as she sees them, rather than cinematically filming it with a camera. I believe this is why many scenes are in such a high angle.
So, you’re saying that all the details on the visual looks and angles are based on the impressions you got from the original manga by Kono san.
Thank you very much. Could you share a message to the people who will watch the movie?
When it comes to the time 71 years ago, when Suzu-san and others were around, we tend to picture what the war-time world was like based on our guesses. However, I have, hopefully, managed to convey the fact that people from back then were different to how we imagine them. Surely, the world was once like that, but there were people just like us, living their lives every day. I would love for everyone to watch this, which is not your typical run-of-the-mill war story, and meet Suzu-san. I will be happy if people can feel the nuances of everyday life during that time.