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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that In This Corner of the World is an animated, subtitled Japanese drama set in the late 1930s and early 1940s (i.e., during World War II) in and near Hiroshima. Some of the movie's themes (arranged marriage, the role of daughters-in-law in Japanese culture, wartime recession/depression, air raids, etc.) may be difficult for younger viewers to understand. And the violence can be disturbing, especially a couple of the deaths and one major injury from the U.S./Allied attacks on Japan. Characters must also deal with the aftermath of the atomic bomb that falls on Hiroshima (destruction, loss, radiation poisoning). The movie's romance starts with marriage and leads to a young couple getting to know and eventually love each other. There are a couple of kisses, references to the wedding night, and a pregnancy scare, as well as one scene in which a character could easily commit adultery. Viewers will learn about historical Japan and the importance of family, duty, art, compassion, and perseverance.
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What's the story?
IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD is a Japanese animated movie set in 1930s to 1940s Hiroshima and its neighboring naval towns. The movie chronicles the life of young Suzu (voiced by Rena Nounen), an artistic, day-dreaming girl whose family sells nori (edible seaweed) in Hiroshima City. She's first introduced in 1938, and then we see snippets of her life: playing with her little sister, Sumi (Megumi Han); processing nori for the family business; and so on. In 1944, when she's 18, Suzu is informed that a young man has asked for her hand in marriage, and she agrees. So she weds Shusaku (Yoshimasa Hosoya) and moves to his family's town, Kure, which is 15 miles away from her childhood home and serves as a Japanese naval port. Married to a virtual stranger (though he says they met once when they were children), Suzu becomes an integral part of her new family, which includes her mother- and father-in-law and Keiko (Minori Omi), a widowed sister-in-law who's moved back home with her preschool-aged daughter, Harumi (Natsuki Inaba). The movie closely follows Suzu in the year and a half after her marriage as war rages, including constant air raids and bombings and culminating in detonation of the atomic bomb.
Is it any good?
Director Sunao Katabuchi's exploration of wartime Japan is simple and touching, if a bit too long and heavy for younger fans of animated films. Older moviegoers are more likely to fully appreciate the historical drama of In This Corner of the World. Suzu is a naive, optimistic, and easy-to-love protagonist who eagerly applies herself to her new role as a wife and daughter-in-law, taking care of Shusaku's family home, bonding with Harumi, and trying to impress Keiko, her sophisticated but cranky sister-in-law. Her romance with Shusaku is a slow burn, despite the fact that it begins with the couple's wedding. Shusaku and Suzu gradually grow to love each other, even when Suzu's childhood crush, Mizuhara, visits and offers to take her away. The newlyweds have a sweet bond, and Suzu is a joy to watch -- whether she's cooking for her new family, drawing with Harumi, or looking at various kinds of military ships with Shusaku.
As the date and title cards appear, viewers who know their history will begin to feel unease with the inevitable approach of August 1945. The air raids and bombings begin, and what starts with simple rationing ends in unimaginable suffering. But even grieving, Suzu doesn't completely lose her capacity for joy and love. The movie shows the "other side" of the war with Japan -- it doesn't cast the Japanese as villains, as so many other WWII-set movies do, but shows them as civilians, families, human beings struggling to survive. If only the movie had been edited down 20-30 minutes, it could have been even more effective. Still, despite the runtime, In This Corner of the World is a watchable, well-researched historical drama.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about In This Corner of the World's violence. Does it seem more realistic because it's historical? How does realistic violence compare to stylized violence? Which has more impact? Why?
How does the movie depict life in Japan leading up to and during WWII? What did you learn about the cultural differences between Japan and where you live?
Were you surprised to see Suzu's response to the end of the war? Why do you think some characters felt angry instead of relieved?
- In theaters: August 11, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: November 14, 2017
- Cast: Yoshimasa Hosoya, Rena Nounen, Megumi Han
- Director: Sunao Katabuchi
- Studios: Shout! Factory, Funimation
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, History
- Character Strengths: Compassion, Perseverance
- Run time: 129 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements including war-related images
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