Wartime Hiroshima put in spotlight: Anime director’s in-depth research adds real-life quality to ‘In This Corner of the World’

© Fumiyo Kouno/Futabasha/Konosekai no katasumini Project

By Emi Yamada / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer“Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni” (In This Corner of the World) has been enjoying an unusually long run. Since the anime film depicting the life of people during wartime in Hiroshima Prefecture was released last autumn, many positive responses have been posted and shared on social media, resulting in the film having attracted more than 1.4 million viewers so far.

Director Sunao Katabuchi recently spoke about its production and his enthusiasm for depicting the landscape and people’s lives during that time with great reality.

The anime is set in Hiroshima and the nearby port city of Kure during and immediately after World War II.

The protagonist, Suzu, is a Hiroshima native who is fond of drawing and is sometimes absentminded. She marries at 18 into a family in Kure in 1944 to start a modest but happy life with her kind-hearted husband. She also lives with her in-laws, including her husband’s sister — who is a little bit hard on her — and her sister-in-law’s daughter Harumi.

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  • Non, who played Suzu, smiles.

  • © Fumiyo Kouno/Futabasha/Konosekai no katasumini Project

  • © Fumiyo Kouno/Futabasha/Konosekai no katasumini Project

  • © Fumiyo Kouno/Futabasha/Konosekai no katasumini Project

While the war intensifies, Suzu continues living cheerfully by using her unique ideas, such as finding and cooking edible wild grass, to cope with a shortage of daily necessities. One day, Suzu and Harumi visit her father-in-law in the hospital. On their way home, they are hit by an air raid and her life takes a tragic turn.

The director started the project in the summer of 2010 after he was captivated by Fumiyo Kono’s original manga, on which the anime is based. But the project soon faced difficulties in funding.

Despite his concern about the project’s prospects, Katabuchi managed to proceed by using his own savings.

He later collected donations via crowdfunding, which successfully raised about ¥39 million from 3,374 donors nationwide.

“People who wanted to watch the anime called for others to support it. Their support expanded through their networks,” Katabuchi said. The move also attracted corporate contributions that set the film project on its way.

Realistic depictions of life

The anime’s audience probably feels that the more the story develops, the more realistic the lives of Suzu and other characters become. It is because Katabuchi was meticulous and fastidious about the details and did a lot of research, reading any available materials to depict the landscapes of Hiroshima and Kure at that time, and make local people’s lives look as real as possible.

These materials included records of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s station in Kure, books on the regional history of the city, magazines, diaries of journalists, papers written by students and communal notices for local residents.

Among his findings was the public’s attitude toward monpe work pants for women. The central government encouraged women to wear the pants as modest clothing suited to coping with wartime emergencies. In the anime, Suzu turns her kimono into monpe.

“I discovered that many people didn’t actually want to wear them,” Katabuchi said. “They felt monpe pants weren’t stylish. I realized people in wartime didn’t feel that differently from people today. That impressed me.”

Katabuchi visited Hiroshima more than 30 times to hear local people talk about the war. These interviews also contributed to his vivid depictions.

In the anime, 8-year-old Suzu walks through the city’s area formerly called the Nakajima district — which is very close to ground zero of the 1945 atomic bombing and currently the site of Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. Katabuchi’s idea was to have many people, including pedestrians and shoppers, in the scene to show viewers that people actually lived their lives there before the atomic bomb destroyed the city.

The anime also depicts how Suzu awkwardly but earnestly manages her household and survives in wartime.

“I hope this anime makes people feel as if they had traveled back to that time and are standing next to Suzu,” Katabuchi said.

Actress Non brings heroine to life

“Suzu should be played by her — the perfect fit.” That is what Katabuchi thought in 2013 when he saw actress Non play the shy, slightly stoop-shouldered protagonist in the NHK serial morning drama “Amachan.”

Non, whose real name is Rena Nonen, was born in 1993 in Hyogo Prefecture. With her voice, the actress brought life to Suzu, who sometimes behaves comically, laughs at things innocently and speaks emotionally to her husband.

Non gently delivers Suzu’s dialogue in the distinctive Hiroshima dialect, saying things such as “arya” (oh), “yowattane” (What shall I do?) and “baretorimashitaka” (I didn’t know you had already found out).

“To better speak in the dialect, I used it even when I was talking with friends,” Non said at a recent event at a movie theater in Hiroshima, making the audience break into laughter.

Said Non about how she played the role: “I communicated with the director via LINE messaging app every night to ask questions such as the meaning of a particular line.”

The actress had given an impression of an easygoing type of person, but Non seems to be meticulous with an inner strength for acting that leaves no questions unasked. She has given a marvelous finish to the creation of Suzu, making the character a heroine the audience will never forget.Speech

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