We’ve talked before about how wars occur for the dumbest of reasons. Now let’s talk about the power of positivity, even when everything around you is destroyed.
Note: If you haven’t seen this anime as of yet, be warned as this mini-essay contains spoilers. Also, even if you don’t like the film, it’s still worth one watch and it should be online right now, although I can’t speak for the quality of the subs.
Further Note: I have recently been informed that the movie is coming out incredibly soon on blu-ray, which you can pre-order for cheap right now.
Sunao Katabuchi’s In This Corner of the World is a very rare kind of anime in just about every positive way I can think of. Successfully blending the slice-of-life comedic antics of Nichijou/My Neighbor The Yamadas with the heart-breaking WWII tragic storytelling of Barefoot Gen/Grave of the Fireflies is not something that just anybody can do, so the fact that this team managed to accomplish that is quite a feat in of itself. On top of that, the animation is gorgeous, the music is moving, the settings are heavily researched, and the tears that most people shed upon watching the film are plenty. But above all else, what I find the most intriguing about In This Corner of the World is how relentlessly positive the story is, even when taking on such a heavy subject as Japanese life during WWII and the Hiroshima bombings. Most people would associate a positive attitude towards that tragic point in history as being disrespectful, but this movie pushes the idea that it’s ultimately a good thing whilst acknowledging the limits of what it can actually achieve.
While most of us would agree that Japan was mostly in the wrong during WWII given whose side they took, only the incredibly sensitive wouldn’t at least acknowledge that the United States dropping the atomic bomb on them was a tragic act that devastated many innocents who were simply staying loyal to their country in their hearts because that’s what any normal human being would do. Even today, there’s still debate regarding whether that act was really necessary, and while I’m not in a position to really lend myself to that discussion, I’m not going to deny that most of the victims didn’t deserve what happened to them. I’m not even sure how many of them were truly aware of what Adolf Hitler was doing even though they were on his side, but given how a fair chunk of Japanese products portrays him as a villain to be killed by teenagers, I’m guessing they don’t look at him with kind eyes these days. The point is, the US being portrayed as a bunch of racist assholes in a lot of anime isn’t entirely unjustified, even if you ignore all the crimes we’ve committed against them since. As such, whenever we talk about Hiroshima, we rightfully treat it with same amount of gravitas as the Holocaust – and there’s no way we’re looking at that disaster in a positive light.
The main character Suzu doesn’t even look like she belongs in a WWII story, let alone act like she does. She’s drawn in a distinctly moe style that’s even more cutesy than KyoAni’s big film of that year (as are the other characters), and she mostly sees the world as a fairy tale bound with possibilities. When a thief breaks into her house to steal watermelon slices, she invites the figure to stay with the family. When she’s set to be married to a man she’s never met, she accepts the offer with little hesitation and soon forms a loving relationship with her new husband. And even when the war starts limiting the amount of food available, prevents her from drawing out in the open because of accusations that she could be a spy, and destroys the landscape around her, Suzu always has it in her mind that she lives in the setting of Nichijou. While a majority of the reason for this is due to her own distinct personality, it’s fairly obvious a good ways into the movie that she’s keeping this positive attitude because that’s the only way to prevent the war from breaking her.
A positive attitude helps you cope more easily with the daily affairs of life. It brings optimism into your life, and makes it easier to avoid worries and negative thinking. If you adopt it as a way of life, it would bring constructive changes into your life, and makes them happier, brighter and more successful. – Remez Sasson
Now obviously, there’s a difference between staying positive while suffering life troubles and staying positive whilst living in Somalia. Still, no analysis on a subject matter can look at the whole picture, and there are many bad situations occurring in the world right now from the Hurricane Harvey relief effort to whatever is happening in North Korea where adopting Suzu’s philosophy is ultimately the healthier alternative. It’s one thing to get mad at the unfairness of the world, but the age-old question of “has embracing the darkness of the situation made your life any better?” is something we all need to consider when in those sorts of situations.
A good chunk of hopeful outcomes tend to close if you don’t look at the world with bright eyes. For example, a negative outlook on the current situation in Houston would generally mean lower aid from the Red Cross and such, as well as not evacuating when the situation calls for it, preventing you from seeing your children again on Thanksgiving. Also, we wouldn’t be having a gas shortage in the Dallas area around the time this post goes up if people were thinking rationally, but I’d rather not bring that up anymore than the Internet already has.
Suzu definitely does not see her troubles as minor inconveniences, especially when her older brother as well as a childhood friend end up dying in the line of duty. It may seem strange that this gets brushed off with only a quick mention or a slightly-comedic scene of how the military police give her a rock because they couldn’t find the brother’s brain, but she has other family members to support, plus she was prepared to lose them the moment they signed on to the Navy. One thing a lot of people seem to forget when wallowing in despair (particularly suicide victims) is that their actions don’t just affect them, and Suzu’s extended family – including the members who don’t take too kindly to her – depend on our protagonist for quite a lot of Japanese housewife tasks. They’d definitely understand if you needed time for yourself, but who’s ultimately on the winning side if that period ends up going on long? Especially when the chances of surviving through war generally increases when everyone is on the same page?
This aspect of staying positive during tragedy becomes greatly challenged when said extended family ends up suffering a devastating loss due to an incident that Suzu herself thinks she could have prevented with a few minor situational changes. Said tragedy was so sudden and shocking that I refuse to spoil the actual details on here, but many people who watched the movie know what I’m talking because that was the moment that you cried, and Suzu physically loses an important part of herself in the aftermath. Not only was said act important from an emotional standpoint, but it was necessary in order to fully test how far Suzu’s positive attitude can go when the tragedies become too great (in a negative sense) on a personal level. Suffice to say, there is depression to the point that our lead contemplates going back home to Hiroshima where the tragedies are less – which viewers will obviously take issue with because we all know what happens to Hiroshima during the war. And all of that is undeniably fair, because human beings are ultimately weak creatures with limits, and Suzu to just move on as quickly as she did her brother would have been denying her own mortality.
These days it can seem the world is crumbling with news headlines of war, terrorism, gun violence, hate crimes, murder etc. There can be times in life when everything around you is grim and depressing. Life is tough. Even at home, nothing good may seem to happen for you. Financial crisis, job loss, death in the family, sickness—the list goes on.
It can be easy to lash out all this negativity and stress to people around you. But life would get more miserable and you will not be happy. It is your choice on how to deal with this turbulent situation. Do you want to see the glass half empty or half full? – Syeda Sameeha
Ultimately though, In This Corner of the World has Suzu own up to her mortality and harden her resolve to never give in, which ultimately saves her life when the inevitable atomic bomb is dropped. Granted, she made this decision after the bombing, but this was also before she learned of the consequences. Yes, keeping a positive attitude isn’t going to help you when you’ve got radiation poisoning; and no matter how much Suzu smiles, her dead family is never coming back, and she’ll never be able to have full functional usage of her body again. While it can be a great aid in regards to mental troubles, the power of the mind is limited when it comes to problems in the physical realm. Nevertheless, you should never underestimate what overcoming mental troubles can do for you, especially in the long run. There’s a theory that Anne Frank might have survived the concentration camps and reunited with her father if she hadn’t lost all hope after her older sister died, although no one can know that for sure.
And that’s the true strength of this movie and its central protagonist: it doesn’t acknowledge being positive as a solution, nor does it portray it as being something that can always help or keep up at all times. But at the end of the day, it does want the viewer to see being positive during the harshest of tragedies as a good thing, as well as why it’s a good thing. By the time the credits roll, Suzu’s positive outlook on life wins against the many tragedies caused by the war. She may have lost important things in her life and her country may have lost the war, but she is still alive, she is still smiling, and she still has a loving family to call her own, even if the members are different than what she initially started with.
I find this outlook on both the Hiroshima bombings and the subject of war in general to be very fascinating because not only is it something new, I think it’s a direction that people involved in war should ultimately take whether in real life or in fiction. There’s nothing wrong with Dunkirk’s approach and having its protagonists come out shell-shocked of course, as not everyone can be as strong as Suzu. But at the end of the day, what benefit does a shell-shocked soldier have to anyone, including himself? Isn’t it better in the long run to move on and either seek new happiness or grab the happiness that’s right in front of you? And this philosophy can just as easily apply to much smaller conflicts like your own love life or the world of criticism in general. While I still find enjoyment in poking fun at anime’s underbelly, isn’t it better to show support for the industry you love so much in order for more physical copies to come to the States and more conventions to hang out at?
In This Corner of the World is definitely one of the most uniquely heavy movies I’ve ever seen in both tone and message. The surprisingly “light-hearted except when not” tone itself is one that not just anybody can do as is, and the ultimate message behind that tone was not only mind-blowing to me, but can easily be related to a number of situations everyone experiences, even when it’s centered on a conflict that non-Japanese people can’t really relate to. I’m not usually one to declare a fictional product as important because it’s just anime at the end of the day, but I can definitely at least see why someone would use that adjective in regards to this.
Not much else to say except that if you like this, you might want to check out Mai Mai Miracle as well. I’ve decided not to do a mini-essay on it because I think it has the same message regarding staying positive during harsh times, except with a more childish view, so I’d just be repeating myself. Still, while I definitely don’t think that film is anything more than okay at best, it’s still something that deserves one watch if you want more stories regarding the frail yet powerful benefits of keeping a smile on your face.