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JapanFriday, November 25

Sunny Side of Life

A new Japanese animated film is depicting a side of war that's not often told. "In This Corner of the World" depicts people's lives in Hiroshima around the time the atomic bomb was dropped.

The film is set in the city of Kure in Hiroshima Prefecture. It depicts people's lives during wartime, when Kure had a military port that was said to be the largest in the Eastern world.

The movie has become quite a hit. It had a rather small premiere, with only 70 theaters but the message of keeping your spirits up during trying times has been drawing people in more than the producers expected.

The main character, Suzu, was born and raised in Hiroshima. She moves to Kure to get married. She likes drawing, and does things at her own pace. Despite the harsh wartime conditions, she doesn't lose her cheerful disposition.

In the final stages of the war, the city was repeatedly pounded by American airstrikes.

"My grandmother told me that her family waited for the bombing to stop, shaking in fear, and that the whole family put out the fire when a bomb hit her home," says Fumiyo Kouno, the manga artist who created the original story.

She was born in Hiroshima herself, and pored over magazines and newspapers published at that time to understand what exactly happened.

Director Sunao Katabuchi turned the story into an animation film.

"I wanted to make a movie based on her story because it depicts a bit of joy and a ray of sunshine in everyday life that you can find anywhere. This could easily go unnoticed," Katabuchi says.

He began his career working closely with Hayao Miyazaki at Studio Ghibli. He was an assistant director on a film called "Kiki's Delivery Service," which is said to be one of the masterpieces of Japanese fantasy animation.

But to make the images for "In This Corner of the World," Katabuchi committed himself to reality.

"All the buildings in the film actually existed in those days. Depicting these scenes wasn't easy at all, because almost everything that stood at the time in Hiroshima and Kure was destroyed and lost. But, depicting the community as it used to be, including the weather conditions on particular dates, really worked to make Suzu look real and authentic," Katabuchi says.

The pursuit of reality is everywhere, even in the colors. War films often look gray and dark but this movie is filled with natural tones.

"I don't think the images in war films necessarily have to be dark, if you think realistically. Even in wartime, each day is another day that comes and goes. When a season changes, the flowers bloom, the butterflies fly, and the birds sing-- same as today, so what's different? About the only thing is that the country was caught up in a war then. Other than that, life went on as it does now."

The air raids intensify in the story, but Suzu tries to keep her composure, and maintain a cheerful outlook.

"I think people always try to live happily. We should not deny the positive aspects of their personalities. Keeping our spirits up allows us to keep going, day by day. I was hoping to portray that aspect of existence, trying to live happily and making the best out of what life brings you," Kouno says.

"As a filmmaker, I wanted to depict Suzu as a person that existed in real life, not just some character on the screen or in a story. I thought it would be nice if I could portray her as someone who's sitting right next to us," Katabuchi says.

Kouno and Katabuchi recently talked about the movie at an event for fans, who seemed delighted the film had become such a big hit.

"The film has taken on an existence of its own. It's gone beyond me and will be viewed by people in many countries. The film will be even happier," Kouno says.