Suzu Hojo is a young Japanese girl growing up in the shadow of World War II. Her arranged marriage takes her away from her awful brother and into a family she doesn’t know and is ill prepared for — complete with an awful sister-in-law included with every purchase. Wartime comes and Suzu struggles to maintain her innocence amidst death, sacrifices, and defeat.
Editor’s Note: The tone of Armchair Anime is always gonna be blunt and carefree, but given the nature and themes of this show, I’m going to tone it back a bit out of respect for those who suffered during World War II. Expect the same level of analysis, but less of me giggling to myself as I wrote this review.
Suzu Hojo is our young, naive, and absentminded main character. We follow her as the years pass, she goes through school and transitions into adult life. She loves to paint or draw, and this becomes a medium in which her innocence is expressed throughout the show (to be discussed in the idea section later). She is effectively forced into an arranged marriage with a boy she met a single time while venturing into the city to sell seaweed. Inexperienced and young, she is not the great housewife that the family wanted, given her new in-laws are getting older and need help around the house. As someone who is constantly thinking, her absentminded nature, getting lost, and childish emotional maturity came across really flat. I struggled to find almost any part of me in her. Finding myself in characters is not critical by any means, but I just found her unrelatable enough that it impacted my view of her. That said, most of the story revolved around Suzu’s innocence disappearing as she is beaten down by the world. It was a little heartbreaking to watch.
Shusaku Hojo is Suzu’s husband and a military clerk. His character is odd. We see him a single time early in the film before he suddenly reappears later in the film to whisk Suzu away. He seems to be quite infatuated with Suzu but really doesn’t show it much at all. For most of the movie, I was questioning if he actually liked her much at all, but some gifts he gives and two kisses in the whole movie give you enough of a hint that he cares to outweigh all the kind of horrible teasing he and the family give her.
Keiko Kuromura was my least favorite character. She enjoyed the lavish lifestyle her husband gave her in the 1920’s, but lost it when her husband died of disease. Just like Russia and Crimea, Keiko’s in-laws basically annexed her son and forced her to be a housewife, a role she despised. Unable to stand it anymore, she left her son with her in-laws and took her daughter to flee back to her parents house. From there, she decided that SHE was the one who was going to be sick (in the head) and treat Suzu like trash. I can sympathize with the pain that she felt by losing her son, husband, and lifestyle, but the way that she treats Suzu is beyond cruel for a given Suzu was pulled across a mountain in an arranged marriage. I never found her to be a compelling character, despite the pain that she lived through.
There are two other characters that I did not mention on purpose because of the twists that they bring cause the only interesting dynamics and I would not want to ruin the movie for anyone interested. All I will say is that Keiko’s daughter is one to watch out for. Oh, and never leave a sailor unattended. 2/6
I came away from this movie confused. I felt a deep sense of sympathy for the people affected by the war, which Japan is facing in the film. Not the movie characters, in particular, but the actual humans affected. Yet, at the same time, I barely cared about any of the characters in this film. As the show dragged on, I really failed to relate to Suzu’s character for the reasons described above, and no characters really seemed to show their love for each other. Consistently, I found myself distracted by social media and messaging my friends throughout the show because I just found it uninteresting overall. My friends were laughing as I commented through this film, “Oh no, she’s dating a military officer in 1940. I SURE HOPE HE DOESN’T DIE. Oh, she is from Hiroshima? I WONDER IF HER FAMILY LIVES?” I think that someone into the less explosive shows may find this more desirable, but I prefer for the emotions to be a little more impactful. 2/6
Americans rarely consume media that forces them to grapple with one of the most impactful events to shape world history: the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This movie depicts life during that time — food rations that include no meat or rice, carpet bombings, occupation, and even using American propaganda as toilet paper. The honesty of depicting such a difficult time with atomic detail — down to the recipes and methods that were used to make the little food available go as far as possible — was striking. When the writers are so true to the experience, or at least emulating what they learned, it brings a special kind of immersion.
Finally, we come to the arranged marriage. I probably don’t need to tell you that arranged marriages are not common in western society, so the use of it brought even more sober realities to a show already littered with them. I really appreciated the depiction. The writers didn’t have to make the arranged marriage be between two families who don’t know each other. The writers didn’t have to add a family member who didn’t like Suzu. But they did because it added to the depth that Suza found herself drowning in, like everything else in her world that changed.
I loved how art was used as a recurring theme of the show. Not only were the lack of art supplies used as a way to describe the lack of materials to citizens, but it was used as an analogy for Suzu’s declining innocence and as a cinematic theme. This kind of work is what I geek out on hardcore. I absolutely love when writers take the care needed to raise the execution of their ideas to a level that becomes thematic without being overbearing. 6/6
If the film shines anywhere, it’s not in the pacing. The front half of the movie felt as if it dragged on forever. I found myself checking the timeline to see how much was left in the movie several times because I was just not interested in anything that was happening on the screen. This half included Suzu’s life as she transitions from a girl to being married to being surrounded by her new house life. The second hour consists of the slow burn, which is the continual Allied beating of Japan by means of bombing. While the second half provided more action, I came into it already bored from Suzu’s mute character. From there, it took me a while to recover and get back into it. 1/3
Modern anime fans will not die on the hill of In This Corner Of The World. The painted scenery is beautiful, but pastel and unremarkable. The characters are mute in personality and in design, lacking the usual colors and personality that people watch anime for. I don’t think that this ruins the film in any sense of the word. It is a style. I prefer the flashier animation with more vibrant colors, but the mood doesn’t fit that style. The film provides a more traditional style to fit a more traditional story, and does well for itself by doing so. While my friends have said before that I really only prefer certain animation, I think that it is more important that the animation fits the tone of the show. Because the tone, palette, and design all match we can appreciate the art more than we could if these were at odds. 3/4
The world is not particularly interesting in any way. In fact, the most interesting part of the world is the part we never see. Suzu’s original home, school, and town are forgettable at best, boring at worst. Suzu’s new home and town are basically the same way. There are moments that I can remember simply because the film is fairly fresh in my mind and I saw the locations often, but I don’t think anyone is coming away from In This Corner of the World saying that the world is anything to write home about — probably because they’ve forgotten most of it already. 1/3
I struggled to remember the music in this one. Not that this is abnormal, but it was bugging me that I couldn’t remember. So I did what I always do and I went back and clicked through the movie searching for music. Over an hour in, I realized there was barely any music in the whole film. The music certainly picks up in frequency towards the end, but the writers certainly let the dialog, the sounds, and the silence speak for themselves. Perhaps this alone warrants the “Music” category to be changed to “Music and Sounds.”
When the music did contribute, I was a fan. The pre-wartime music consisted of bouncing xylophones and short string accompaniments. It gave the film a really lively feeling that sat oddly with the animation. Being largely pastel, the bounciness conflicted with Suzu’s soft tone and the film’s lack of action. While this contrast seems bad, I liked it. The entire show is about the contrast between Suzu and the world around her, and the music seems to play a role in that contrast. Later in the show, when Suzu’s innocence lines up with the gravity of the story, the piano music feels appropriate and on theme, mirroring her instead of contrasting. 2/3
So this show falls under my range for “showing potential.” I think this is a bit deceptive, however. I don’t think I could tweak one or two things and make me like this film. More accurately, this film is a matter of taste. If you enjoy the anime that represents Japan, both artistically and culturally, this one is right up your alley. It is a great historical anime with characters I could picture meeting at that time. Anyone looking for a dynamic story or action should look elsewhere. This film was eye-opening and I think I came away from it with new perspectives, but it did not scratch any particular anime related itch that I have.