*This article contains spoilers. And the opinions of the writer in this article are his own and his own only. They may not even be accurate for he is not a historian.
I had a conversation with a friend who had strong opinions after watching this movie about the main character – of Suzu’s ignorance towards the horrible acts of war committed by the Japanese in World War 2 and the film’s constant victimizing of the Japanese characters who suffer under the war.
He was pointing in particular towards a scene in the film, near the end where Suzu gets emotional regarding the fact that the Japanese have lost the war, victimizing themselves to have suffered the blunt of violence and ultimately forgoing the Japanese own war guilt. When I first viewed the movie, on a flight from Japan, I too was scratching my head, especially since I come from Singapore, a country that was subjugated under the Japanese rule during World War 2.
A brief moment of thinking would get one to the point where they realize that in the historical context, under heavy pro-war propaganda and lack of information about the war, it is unlikely for Suzu or any of the characters featured within the film to be aware of the war horrors that the Japanese have inflicted on other nations.
While this may be more historically accurate (at least to my common sense, I am no Japanese historian) within the setting, perhaps there is a need to hint at or maybe emphasize on the war crimes committed by Japanese soldiers and to not depict the Japanese as the sole victims of the war. This is made more important when one does a little research and finds that Japanese history textbooks do not actually have much content on the war crimes committed by the Japanese during World War 2 and in fact, it focuses more on sufferings of the Japanese people during war. Thus, placing a greater emphasis on ‘victimizing’ themselves.
As noble a goal of ‘enlightening’ a viewer of deprived information, is it really necessary and beneficial artistically for such a moment to be placed within ‘In This Corner of the World’? This movie is the about a teenage Japanese girl within the time – of her daily, ordinary life, of romance, of suffering through World War 2. For a story focused on such to so suddenly move away from its personal and focused approach on character focused storytelling to speak of World War 2 atrocities by the Japanese soldiers, would be rather jarring.
Perhaps a moment, many years later when this information is more in the open to be accessed by the common folk, Suzu can reflect upon the war and her nation’s war crimes, though isn’t doing so rather contrived and distant from the narrative’s focus on the ordinary life of the people during war?
Yes, this information should be conveyed to help Japanese people learn and understand the atrocities that the soldiers have committed during the war and not to just victimize themselves, however it should not be done when it is detrimental to the story’s narrative core and the filmmaker’s intentions. Sunao Katabuchi, the director wanted to focus on the hardships of the Japanese people under war. Some might call it an intent on further aiding the idea of the Japanese people as victims of the war, but honestly aren’t they? Wars are started by politicians and the governments after all, and they never (almost) by the common folk.
While they may belong to the side of an aggressor, the common Japanese people of the time are not directly responsible for making the decision to invade other countries and they bore the blunt of the trauma instead, suffering from atomic bombings on two cities.
I believe that divulging the information on Japan’s war crimes should be done in a film with such a narrative that aims to discuss about the morality of the war and not a film that has the setting of the war to serve not as a discussion of the war itself but rather, to show the simple life of ordinary Japanese folk, enduring the odds.
All ordinary people are victims of war, regardless of what side they are on.
Maybe I am talking something far, far out of my depth here. I am certainly no expert on this matter. Perhaps not many will read this and that’s okay. Just my two cents on the matter that after searching on google, I’m sure not many care about.