In 1944, Suzu Urano moves to the small town of Kure in Hiroshima where she marries Shuusaku Houjou—a young clerk who works at the local naval base. Living with his family, Suzu becomes essential to the running of the household and creatively prepares meals during the tough wartime conditions while also carrying out daily housework. In 1945, intense bombings by the U.S. military finally reach Kure with devastating effect to the townsfolk and their way of life. Suzu's life is changed irrevocably, but through perseverance and courage, she manages to continue to live life to the fullest.
Winner of the 40th Japan Academy Award for Best Animation Award, the 90th Kinema Junpo Best Ten Japan Film Best 1 and Director Award, 71st Mainichi Film Concurs Japanese Movie Excellence Award and Ofuji Nobushiro Prize, 59th Blue Ribbon Award Director Award, Hiroshima Peace Film Award during the 3rd Hiroshima International Film Festival, and the Best Film during the 38th Yokohama Film Festival.
A "Slice of Life" in Kure and Hiroshima in 1940s, Involving Love, Laughter, Fantasy, Hope, and Death.
The protagonist is a nonchalant (at least on the surface) and a bit dreamy ordinary girl who loves to draw and paint. She is raised in Hiroshima and marries into a family of a young man employed in the naval town of Kure,
The movies goes into great detail showing the life of an ordinary family of that time. It starts as a great slice of life, of her old-style marriage with a new husband, sharing life with in-laws and communicating with neighbors. There are happy, sweet, and tender
moments although the life is set in wartime, and the hardship gradually creeps into life. The relationship with the sister-in-law is a bit fictitious, but the protagonist forms a solid bond with the family and the relationship to her little niece is just beautiful.
And I will stop there, as it would be a great spoiler.
I will only add that air raid scenes were really terrifying, although it was not right in your face bloody. The reason why almost excessive showing of daily life was necessary becomes evident when the war becomes very personal and relate-able to the protagonist, and you are shown what war can do to people leaving emotional and physical scars. The effects of the A Bomb is not directly shown apart from a later brief horrifying scene (as the protagonist was in Kure, 30-40km away from Hiroshima), but depicted as a culmination of personal tragedies in a mass scale (if one could feel the great tormenting pain and sorrow of losing a loved one in Kure which was attacked by conventional incendiary bombings, then imagining the tragedy of hundreds of thousands lives lost in Hiroshima can evoke fear and despair without showing it right in the face).
I groaned in the theater as shedding tears was not enough to control my emotions. After the film finished I was in the streets with Christmas lights and happy faces around among families and friends. The world felt very ordinary yet very fragile. I kept on half-weeping on the train heading home.
This is a very well done film with a distinct art-style (it is realistic but it's a reality only achieved by animation and not a photoshop production using photographs or rotoscope), thorough research in history, and passion. I don't know if this film is the best of all war films, but I think it is one of the best animated films produced dealing with war (I can't say which is better- the Grave of Fireflies, or this).
This should be seen at theaters with a wide screen and good audio.
TL;DR: Watch this movie for the love, loss, and war you can expect in Japanese war movies. If you've seen any, like for example Barefoot Gen, you should know kinda what to expect walking in.
Right after the overall score is the "should you watch it" chart.
There is also a spoiler section at the very bottom for detailed commentary. Most people would not consider these spoilers, but they may hint at plot developments indirectly. Whether or not you wish to view them is up to you.
This movie takes place mainly around World War II, and talks about a ditzy and dreamy little girl called Suzu
from Hiroshima. She loves drawing, but is a bit clumsy at a lot of other things. In 1944, when she was 18, she was forced into a marriage with Shuusaku, a man she had never met from the city of Kure. With WWII raging on, how will Suzu and Shuusaku's life change? How will the people they meet change?
You probably already know what will happen, the question is just how it will get there. The themes are the same as most war movies, with perhaps just a tiny sprinkle of romance and beauty mixed in it. The movie's story does not really veer into the realm of the unexpected, yet the presentation of it is captivating.
A criticism of this movie that I have is that it moves extremely slow early on, and the pace is just all over the place. Sometimes years are just skipped, whereas sometimes you have events happening one after another on the same day. Though I get that it's kinda the point, it's unfortunately not something I prefer.
One thing I like is that the movie takes advantage of Suzu's dreaminess in order to give some fantastic surreal animation. Sometimes, you have no idea if something actually happened, or was simply the product of her imagination. The art contributes to this, which leads me to the next section.
It's a shame that I cannot give 11 for art to this movie. It is dynamic, abstract, and dreamy. It looks a bit like it was drawn with watercolor. As I was watching the animation of this movie, I couldn't help but feel that this was exactly how Suzu saw the world with her eyes. There are many climactic moments and significant events that are portrayed to convey feeling rather than realism. The art floats above the clouds and is not shackled by the restrictions of reality.
Sound: 9.5 (rounded up to 10)/10
It's hard to do sound wrong nowadays. I don't have much of a requirement for sound, as long as the music makes me feel what I think it's trying to make me feel at any given point. I usually don't have much to say about voice acting either, but in this case I found Suzu's voice acting in the very beginning of the movie slightly strange, as her voice didn't quite match the age of the character at the time. Once the movie progressed over to 1944, it became a lot more fitting.
Character: 8.5 (rounded up to 9)/10
Character development for Suzu and Shuusaku was very substantial. The movie does a great job at showing their development without explicitly telling you. However, there were characters that got the short end of the stick, per se. Look in the spoiler section for commentary there.
I have a somewhat personal grudge against this movie. As a person that loves watching romance, arranged marriages just do not sit with me very well. It took out a lot of enjoyment from the movie for me. The movie was also a bit too predictable, and did not try anything new with its approach. Perhaps I have seen too many of these movies; I found it hard to immerse myself into it, and frequently found myself pulled into reality saying 'oh that reminds me of such and such war movie'. Overall though, it was rather enjoyable regardless of all of these things. I also have some spoilers regarding enjoyment at the end pertaining to the romance aspect of the film.
As in my other reviews, my overall score is based only on enjoyment, and my enjoyment takes into account pretty much everything about the movie and summarizes it into a single number. Despite not having any emotional impact on me whatsoever, I was still glad I got to experience it. Although I personally did not enjoy it as much as I liked, I believe that there are many people, especially those that are fans of war movies or emotional stories that will love this movie and hail it as a masterpiece.
The "should you watch it" chart:
- like Japanese history?
- enjoy Japanese WWII movies? animated movies?
- like themes such as learning to live with people, coping with what fate gives you, and other themes of war movies?
- enjoy slow paced movies that are grounded in the realities of life?
- enjoy subtle, emotional stories?
Then you will likely watch this show. If you do not like all of these things, you may or may not like the movie. Your mileage may vary.
Very light spoilers ahead. You have been warned.
My personal enjoyment of this movie was impacted not only just because of the arranged marriage, but because the arranged marriage broke a pairing that I just kinda expected would happen based on the events of the movie. When true love gets torn by circumstances like that, I like it only when I expect it to happen. That was probably one of the few unpredictable things about the movie, but unfortunately that took away a lot of my enjoyment rather than add to it.
One other thing that was rather annoying was that it introduced characters, then did basically nothing with them ever again. This would've been fine for me if it had just been left alone, but the characters reappear, making them more than just insignificant characters. Just when they have shed the identity of insignificant character, they disappear from the rest of the story. I doubt this is by accident, and was probably intended as a sort of realistic portrayal of how sometimes we just never find out about what happened to some people or meet them again. This didn't do anything to alleviate my frustration, however.
There are several ways in which one can engage in criticism.
There are objective determinations on which one can base their criticism. There are also criticisms that come from biases and presumptions that one as an individual have and want to see, presumptions and biases which others might not share. To some extent, there's overlap and ambiguity in the delineation between these two styles of criticism. In a trivial way, what is typically seen as objectively bad writing might not bother someone else out of apathy. For instance, a central drama or conflict which becomes resolved without any proper build up
towards that resolving (viz., deus ex machina). In less trivial ways, individuals may share different substantive views on the moral responsibility involved with storytelling.
The issues I find most arresting about this film come more from the latter than the former, but I did want to express the idea that this film had some issues on this front: a number of scenes could have been cut without any harm done to the film's narrative integrity (if there ever was any) which served no purpose; a number of scene or shot transitions were noticeably rough (the atomic bombing scene as well as the rapid transitions in the beginning portions of the film come first to mind); there's a lot of thematic inconsistency (note the art direction, the main character's childish naivete and aloofness, in contrast to some of the darker themes later on, which aren't themselves that well developed or strongly held onto); similar to the previous point, but some of the darker themes (Suzu's depression, Suzu's wish for the war to continue) are introduced and dropped real quickly without buildup, and certainly without resolution.
On this last point I can imagine some who would disagree. They might argue that Suzu's wish for the war to continue comes from all that she's sacrificed. What Suzu has "sacrificed" for the war however isn't very clear. A lot of the labor she's performed in the film has simply been from her position as a wife in Japan in the early 20th century, much of the seriousness of her labor is further reduced by the naivete of Suzu and the lighthearted approach of the film which seems to take no interest in displaying Suzu's labor here as what would be seen today as a loss of liberty. Without having access to these grounds for Suzu's exhortations, the disagreer is forced to say that Suzu's sacrifice comes from the loss of her hand and Harumi, but Suzu's relationship with Harumi isn't well developed. In any case, the conclusion seems to be that Harumi and Suzu's hand are lost to ground Suzu's wish for continued war, which makes the point seem forced. And for what? A single scene which is completely abandoned once we've transition to the next.
What was most arresting about this film however was its glossed naivete. Our main character, Suzu, is a character without much thought or intelligence behind her. This is not a character well suited for viewing the Second World War and what it meant. As I discussed in other ways before, Suzu's naivete actually collides with the narrative at certain points. For instance, Suzu's wish for the war's continuance when she has never expressed any feeling or thought about the war or what it means. This film could have used such a character's naivete to make a point, but this film didn't seem interested in that. There was no dramatic irony in the early bits of the film when Suzu is married off and is forced to labor for her new family. The film doesn't treat this as if we, the viewer, know better about what's going on than Suzu does. It instead plays it lightheartedly.
The sharpest expression of this naivete, was the contrast between the character designs and the moral context of the film's very setting. It strikes me as not an accident that all the characters in the film are designed with childlike intimations. The film seems to wish for the viewer to view the characters as innocent children. This is a very troubling request given the moral dynamics of the Second World War, and Japan's role therein.
This may or may not have been intentional. I'd actually have a lot more respect for the film had it not only been intentional, but had it been part of a larger message or purpose. I don't view this film harshly because of some perceived immorality to it, I view it harshly because it offers no artistic or narrative contribution to the subject of Japan in the Second World War, has seriously flawed writing, all the while contributing aimlessly to a morally problematic viewpoint with contemporary ramifications.
Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni (I will call it KonoKata from hereon) is a slice-of-life, historical movie that details the life of a normal Japanese citizen during the latter days of World War 2.
For an average citizen, war is a very undesirable thing. It disrupts the peaceful routine that makes us very comfortable with our lives in the first place, food has to be rationed and thus you won't be eating much and deliciously for a while. Air raid alerts are very frequent and may happen anytime so chances are you won't be getting much sleep if an alert blared off in the middle
of the night. When your beloved ones are drafted for war, the mixed feeling of sadness, fearfulness and loneliness came flooding in fear of losing them and not seeing them again.
KonoKata tells its story in a very simple and honest manner, purely from the perspective of Suzu Houjou, who is an ordinary Japanese citizen during World War 2. We follow her life story of her growing up and ends up having an arranged meeting with her husband, then we see her doing a lot of household chores just like how a married Japanese woman was expected during that era. War came, and its devastating effect was felt by Suzu and her close ones, just like how it would impact an ordinary Japanese citizen.
The pacing of the movie is pretty slow, and doesn't attempt to manipulate the viewers by using any overly dramatic methods. When they are under attack, it would be presented in a slice-of-life way instead of a dramatic way, where we simply follow Suzu and her family move towards a shelter as fast as they could, hiding there bracing themselves as the shelter quakes from the air bombings, once everything has subsided, they come out from the shelter and life goes on. When tragedy really struck, there isn't much going on, other than we see how the victims overcome their sadness of losing their loved ones and return to their normal lives being stronger than before.
The characters are presented in as realistic as possible as well, there aren't any ridiculous bravado only seen in shounen shows, nor are there any crazy personalities that are always found in shows with school setting. Everyone is normal in KonoKata, just like your friendly neighbor who greets you every morning, and that strict military police who arrests you because they have to be overly alert at all times, etc etc. While it is one thing to be complimented for having very realistic characters, it is a pity that these characters will not be very memorable to you in the distant future.
As the first scene shed its light onto the big cinematic screen, the animation style by MAPPA (Zankyou no Terror, Yuri on Ice) can be seen as very traditional - mostly hand-drawn animation with very minimal CG being used, the backgrounds are illustrated akin to a watercolor painting. The character designs are simple yet sufficiently distinct to give everyone a different face. Overall, the movie is a delight to watch. Colors are very balanced, not too bright nor gloomy, which is rather nice seeing most war-themed movies can get overly dark sometimes. If you had been following the newer productions recently, you might feel a little unfamiliar with the older style KonoKata utilizes.
For the sound presentation, the great speakers from the big screen do the bombings a huge favor, highlighting their powerful impact and damage every time a bomb is landed. There isn't much to say about the soundtracks used in the movie, however, as they are pretty much standard piano themes that aren't memorable, and there aren't many of them as most of the movie doesn't have any music behind it. Seiyuu performance, although solid, isn't anything to be touted for, either.
KonoKata is one of those movies that does an honest and simple job in portraying how life of an ordinary citizen looks like during World War 2, serving as a great reminder on how war is truly an undesirable thing. Being simple and honest doesn't make a great movie, however, as the slow pacing, lack of drama and being slice-of-life heavy may turn many moviegoers away.
+ Honest portrayal on how life was during World War 2.
+ Realistic setting and characters.
+ Doesn't use sappy drama to hook you on.
+ Decent art presentation.
- Slow pacing, nothing much happens throughout the movie.
- Can be quite boring if it isn't your cup of tea.
- Ordinary soundtrack.
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