In one of many moments of reflection from In This Corner of the World, Shuzaku explains to his wife, Suzu, “Our voice won’t reach those we never see.” A simple comment, but a profound one, and perhaps at the center of what keeps the characters in the film moving forward through unspeakable tragedy, and what helps us all when we suffer as well.
In This Corner of the World takes place in and near Hiroshima in the years leading to and following the dropping of the first atomic bomb. Suzu, the heroine of the story, is kind, earnest, youthful and absent-minded. She was made for a peaceful time where her determination, cheerful attitude, and love would multiply, transforming those around her. And indeed, she is able to do so through the course of the film, but she, too, must change as her families (her in-laws live in Kure, which endures frequent bombing near the end of the WWII and her parents and siblings in Hiroshima) steadily suffer loss after painful loss (Warning: I’ll try to keep the spoilers light, but spoilers are certainly ahead).
The first half of the film, which deals mostly with Suzu’s transition into her husband’s household, is light and humorous. It contrasts well with the chaos of the second half, in which tragedy cascades like dominos. An important loss has already occurred when a central death in the story happens, one that impacts Suzu deeply and carries her into a depression. Deaths then accumulate, within the family and among her friends and neighbors. The bombs go from being a nuisance to becoming an unstoppable weapon of war, meant to kill and destroy and bring a nation to its knees.
Through Suzu’s eyes, we see how much the people of that country suffered; I also reflected on how people now, near and far, have to deal also with their own tragedies. And not just outwardly – Suzu blames herself, in addition to receiving outside blame, for the death that affects her so. She questions her actions in the moments leading up to the death, and as she begins to fall apart, questions her motives and actions more and more. The outward maiming she receives is symbolic of what’s happening in her heart; she is deeply wounded by the results of war.
What is the answer when the world is falling apart? I can give the rote response my religion says: God is with us, he loves us, he guides us through. And though I absolutely believe it to be true, those words rarely bring comfort when the most horrible circumstances occur, and they don’t even give hope when you’re like Suzu and her family, who don’t believe in God.
And yet, the substance of that answer, the vehicle through which God acts, is the same one that brings comfort. It is the weapon to combat, repel, cope, and stand in times when such things seem impossible. It is the power of grace.
As the losses surmount, the reactions are real – Suzu’s depression, Shuzaku’s anger, Keiko’s outbursts. But like a response to Shuzaku’s comment about not being able to love those that our far away, the family tries its best with each and those that are near. The family lives on. In fact, it grows as Suzu’s household brings in other relatives and friends rely on each other, sometimes through serious conversation but often through simple, everyday conversation. They protect each other through further hurt by avoiding topics that might cause worry. And ultimately, and most importantly, they forgive.
One of the most important scenes in the film, both in emphasizing this theme of healing through grace and in leading Suzu to make a decision that we as the audience know will ultimately lead to her life or her death, is about forgiveness. In a most mighty act – we know this because it’s very out of the character for the giver – one who has suffered lost and blamed Suzu for it tells her it’s not her fault (and much more in addition). I don’t know if Suzu believes it, but she needed that forgiveness anyway, to hear that she’s loved despite the gravest of sins, that she means something even though she feels worthless. It’s a moment that changes Suzu’s life, that changes the course of the narrative.
I sometimes forget the power of grace. It can lift us up from unbearable tragedy. It can transform the most vile of hearts. And without it, even the best of us can be destroyed. There is no one in the film that isn’t deeply impacted by loss – no deserves any special mercy and kindness, and yet the community and Suzu’s family continue to heap such love upon one another. It’s the only way they can live.
At the end of the film, there’s a special moment that occurs, one in which a receiver of grace is able to give the same to someone else. That profound action ends up saving a life and restoring a family. In demonstrates that grace is stronger than any weapon or natural disaster. It’s what our hearts need for healing, and it’s what we can give to help heal others. It’s more than a word. Grace is life.
In This Corner of the World is currently playing in limited release in U.S. theaters.