Animated Drama Set Near Hiroshima During WWII to Get Oscar Push

'In This Corner of the World' opens in limited release in the U.S. on Friday.

In stark contrast to Despicable Me 3, The Emoji Movie and other comedic animated features that bowed this summer, Shout! Factory and Funimation Films today are opening for the domestic market In This Corner of the World. The hand-drawn film follows a resilient young woman who lives near Hiroshima, Japan, and demonstrates perseverance and courage while enduring famine and tragedy against the backdrop of WWII.

An awards season push is planned for the film, produced by Genco and Japanese animation studio Mappa, which demonstrates how animation can be effectively used to tell stories that might not initially seem to be a subject for this discipline (think Persepolis, the story of a young girl growing up during the Iranian Revolution that earned a 2008 Oscar nomination, as another example).

"The strength of animation is to create something that does not exist in front of our eyes," says Sunao Katabuchi, who wrote and directed In This Corner of the World, based on the Japanese manga by Fumiyo Kouno. "In that world exists this petite housewife, Suzu. She lives near the town of Kure and every day she works in the fields where she can see many Japanese battleships at port. When creating that view, we were expressing her daily life but within that, there was this unreal view of battleships. In order to express all of this within one world, I felt animation could do justice to this. Another strength of animation is that animation can express what is being experienced by the soul of a character. We expressed Suzu's soul through animation."

Creating her world and the details of her life involved detailed research. Explains Katabuchi: "How does she cook? What kind of walkways did she take? What kinds of shops were there? We delved into what surrounded her based on history. We suppressed our own imagination and, instead, looked into what life was actually like in 1944 and 1945. We were stimulated by the findings of our research. We researched many, many details or else we wouldn't have been able to create the world that Suzu lived in.

"When I think about those who endured that time in history, they may seem like people from the far past, but I'm sure those people had happy and funny moments when they could laugh," Katabuchi says. "I wanted to express these moments even if it was in the middle of war because I believe our present-day lives and their lives weren’t all that different."

The director also used animation techniques in an inventive way. "In the original manga by Fumiyo Kouno, she deliberately used many different drawing techniques. It's not just about telling a story, but about expressing the story through different methods. We also used different techniques and incorporated that same artistic approach when working on the film.

"In the bombing scene, we were trying to do something similar to Norman McLaren, a Canadian animator," the director continues. "His technique is called scratch-on-film, where he would deliberately scratch the film. In Japan it's called cine-calligraphy. We were trying to make that scene as close as possible to this technique. What was unfortunate is that we weren't able to use film, so we tried to mimic those techniques as closely as possible."

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