By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“War is hell,” hissed the local writer Jack Cady once, at a public reading — extra hissing on the hell. He’d never fought in a war, but he’d read and heard plenty. He knew soldiers, and he’d read soldiers’ stories.
And every so often, we need a reminder that war is hell. Especially a reminder that shows us life, in its beauty, and complexity — both including sadness — on life’s terms, instead of war’s terms.
“In This Corner of the World,” a new anime feature from director Sunao Katabuchi, gives us a young woman named Suze Urano, a daydreamy girl, teased but loved by her family, growing up in Hiroshima. It’s 1933. As her life unspools the years, months, and dates and eventually, times of day, slowly speed up. We’re counting up to Aug. 6, 1945, when the American bomber “Enola Gay” drops an atomic bomb called the “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, and the world changes.
That isn’t important at first. The ticker ticks slowly. Suze grows, fools around with family and friends, runs up and down, gets forgiven for mischief. She draws, and in her drawings, she escapes into a world she controls. She isn’t bitter or frustrated about family life, but she treasures this other life, where she can cast white jumping rabbits as white rolling waves, rearranging shapes and sometimes colors, from real life, to suit her imagination. Everyday sensations, her inner life, and a few odd moments that don’t make logical sense, as would happen with any child (especially an imaginative one), thrill her from the moment she wakes.
Masterful anime on war existed before, but unlike Isao Takahata’s “Grave of the Fireflies,” this movie doesn’t start with horror and then circle around to explain that horror.
Unlike Mori Masaki’s “Barefoot Gen,” it doesn’t start close in on the Hiroshima bombing. The action builds slowly, to show that life builds slowly. Then soldiers, and more soldiers, and more war announcements. Then finally, hell.
I’m not giving away too much by saying that Suze suffers her greatest loss before August 6. She loses parts of herself inwardly and outwardly. Her faith in what she thought she knew — goodness, strength in spirit, strength in family — suffers a huge crack. She has to learn to live with the pieces. Her imagination pushes her through, but she no longer feels in control.
The day I started typing this, Facebook and the news were full of Trump and Kim Jong-un shouting at each other from across the globe. Fire and fury, promised our president to North Korea. Fire and fury. And Trump later added that he didn’t go far enough.
Cooler heads tell us that nuclear war isn’t likely. Not for the moment. We have to hope that cooler heads have a point.
Because if missiles fly this time, we probably won’t have time for the weariness towards war that the characters in “Corner” come to. Attrition to readiness, when the air raid siren screams and the loudspeaker blares for the 10th, 20th, 40th time, and somewhere in there, folks lie in bed wondering if the bombers are really coming, if they’ll hit anything as far out as their homes anyway. Wondering if they might as well turn over and stay in bed.
The Hiroshima bomb made the world new, and made war new. But we have plenty of war left to us on Earth. Plenty of attrition. Plenty of hell. I wish Trump and Kim and other world leaders would watch this one, and look carefully at what life builds, how life breathes. Before hellfire (and fury) from the push of a button burns it all up.
“In This Corner of the World” opens Aug. 18, at theaters in and around Seattle. Consult local listings for prices, showtimes, and other information.
Andrew can be reached at email@example.com.