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Kono Sekai no Katasumini

Kono Sekai no Katasumini

October 8, 2016

Hiroshima anime comes face-to-face with horrors of war

THE ASAHI SHIMBUN

An anime historical film that faithfully mirrors the cityscape and lives of the ordinary people of wartime Hiroshima before it was leveled by a nuclear weapon will premiere in Japan in November.

In the opening scene of "Kono Sekai no Katasumini" (In This Corner of the World), Suzu, a young girl, strolls through the busy streets of the city’s Nakajima Honmachi district in late 1933.

“(The film) focuses on the details of life,” director Sunao Katabuchi said in a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun. “While the war casts a shadow, ordinary lives appear shining as if a treasure.”

The Nakajima Honmachi district today forms part of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, and was close to ground zero when the atomic bomb was dropped on the city on Aug. 6, 1945.

Katabuchi spent six years visiting Hiroshima to gather accounts from people about those days and thousands of photographs for his project. He said the interviews made him realize that the most awful thing about war was the sense of guilt felt by survivors.

The film is based on Fumiyo Kono’s manga of the same name. The protagonist, Suzu, marries a man in the naval port of Kure in 1944 at age 18. But the war casts a shadow over her life, and eventually the bombs begin to fall.

“Six years ago I started thinking about a film adaptation,” Katabuchi said. “I portrayed the city of Hofu in Yamaguchi Prefecture in 1955 for ‘Mai Mai Miracle.' For me, born in 1960, 1955 almost feels like a nostalgic year, but I felt that there was a gaping fault between the war years and the time that immediately followed, with a completely different world sandwiched between them. That was when I came across Kono’s original manga.

“I felt sympathy with how she portrays (the people of Hiroshima).”

Occupying one wall of the director’s room in his studio in Tokyo’s Suginami Ward are reference materials about the period, including publications about the histories of Hiroshima and Kure. Katabuchi said he collected more than 4,000 photographs to re-create the cityscape of the 1930s and 40s.

“Kono draws each scene after thorough research. She even adds a line that says, ‘If it is wrong, please tell me,’ ” Katabuchi said. “She grew up in Kure surrounded by people who knew how things were back then. In order for us who have no relation with Hiroshima to revisit and draw, I thought it would be a tough act to follow unless I did a lot of research.

“I read the original manga and could relate to the first part where people peacefully live their ordinary lives. But the next moment I see bombs raining down on their heads. How absurd is that? I wanted audiences to feel the same way."

The director said Suzu is a symbol of the people who actually lived through wartime Hiroshima, so she is a realistic character.

“When I thought about how I should express her feelings, I came up with the idea to draw the actual scenery (as it was back then),” Katabuchi said.

The cityscape of 1933 is resurrected on the screen as the film opens.

“There was the Otsuya muslin shop standing in front of a building that housed the Taishoya Gofukuten kimono fabrics shop, which still stands today,” Katabuchi said of the film’s opening sequence. “We studied as many photographs as possible, but we still didn’t know what the shop looked like.

“Then we found a woman who lived in a house next to it when she was young. She was able to describe how the store window looked and even how the handrails were installed. She said that they were gold-colored, and that she still remembered how they felt on her back when she leaned against them.”

The director also found a person who had a photo album that survived the war with snapshots of how the area looked before it was damaged during the war, including an area where a barbershop once stood.

We were given a privilege to step into the past--into something very important,” Katabuchi said. “That was what we were thinking when we listened to their accounts.

“Today, I can only listen to accounts from those who were children at the time. Even the oldest person was born in 1928.

“Catching shrimp in a river, eating baked ’mikan’ (Japanese mandarin oranges), and things like that. These are the childhood memories about the city they are able to recall. But they never talked about how the atomic bomb changed everything.

“The Nakajima Honmachi that disappeared with the atomic bomb has left a strong impression that it was a town where a lot of children played.”

After Katabuchi finished making the film, he thought differently about the war.

“War is really horrible,” Katabuchi said. “Here is this peaceful person named Suzu living an ordinary life in an ordinary town, and then everything is blasted to nothing.

“It was the war that trampled their everyday lives. The most abominable thing about war is the sense of guilt that war instills in the survivors.

“Before I made the movie, I couldn’t help feeling pity for them for having bombs raining down on their heads. But after I finished making it, I can’t help feeling pity for them because they have to live with regret and agony for not being able to save their loved ones.”

“In This Corner of the World” is scheduled to open Nov. 12.

(This article is based on an interview by Keiichiro Inoue.)

 

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