Interview: In This Corner of the World Director Sunao Katabuchi
(Part 2)

by Andrew Osmond,

More than twenty years ago, you led the research team that went to Sweden during the production of Kiki's Delivery Service (pictured). Did that experience help you in any way when you were researching In This Corner of the World?

Well, Hayao Miyazaki emphasised the power of drawing. Of course he does research but he uses it mainly as a jumping-off point for his imagination. Isao Takahata was the first person to decide to use overseas locations for anime, for instance on Heidi or From the Apennines to the Andes. At that time Miyazaki worked as a staff member and went on location and recognised the importance of it.

Takahata believed going abroad deepened knowledge and recognition of the local culture. Location visits not only allowed him captured the landscapes and textures, they also fueled his imagination.

For me, it was the very first time to go abroad on location for Kiki's Delivery Service. Sweden was key in terms of the look but later we also went to Zagreb, Croatia, London and Paris, where we saw many medieval buildings and relics.

The things that we got from going abroad on location were basic information we could share and compare with each other. For example, we say “medieval era”, but there is not just one image; there are many cultural variations. When we went to various countries it was best to see the unique point of each country.

When I was making Mai Mai Miracle, the colour of the local soil was the most characteristic feature. (The setting) was based on Hofu city in Yamaguchi Prefecture, where the soil was white, because the mountain is granite and the soil and sand comes from that. It was only when I talked to the local people about the white land that they realised this for the first time.

This time (making In This Corner of the World), it was Kure in Hiroshima Prefecture. It was very much the color of the sea. Hiroshima people believe the color of the sea there is different to everywhere else. They say that Kure and Hiroshima bay are definitely different. I decided to reproduce this color. When this film was finished, the original manga artist Fumiyo Kōno said to me that the sea, river and the water were Hiroshima color. Also she gave me the stamp of approval as even the sky was Hiroshima colour.

The character designs in the film are very soft and cute. For you, what is the appeal of this kind of design?

As much as possible, (they are) Fumiyo Kōno's drawings (pictured). I wanted to find her sense of design. We decided to develop the world of this story using the original manga, so we always concentrated on Kono's image.

Hinaro Matsuba was the character design artist. When she saw Kono's original artwork and decided to work on the film, she expected it would take at least a year to be able to draw like this.

For some non-Japanese viewers, the film may look like a young children's film. Consequently such viewers might be shocked when the film depicts adult subjects and grim events. How do you think Japanese viewers will respond to this film?

I think Kono's manga is already well established in Japan already. I think it is positioned more as literature than just plain manga. Surely it looks like serious literature. I think it has more technical skill than previous award-winning literature. Whilst her works are very literary, she investigates thoroughly how she can tell the story as a manga. As a writer / artist, she is always challenging herself. Her works are aimed at adults; also manga readers think they are for them, not for kids.

Some time ago my film Mai Mai Miracle (pictured) had a screening at an American anime Convention. Afterwards we had a Q&A. Almost all of the audience had left and the remaining ones were parents - fathers or mothers. For the anime convention the people who accompanied their children were the target audience, mainly in their 40s. I realised then that even American people could garner something from my films and that animation is more widely understood.

Also, we had some screenings at a pop-up drive-in theatre for Mai Mai Miracle. We set the screen up on a park green in the night. At these venues, many children watched while eating and talking in a joyful way with their parents. Even the same film has two faces, I think.

Probably In This Corner of the World looks very cruel in some ways. Maybe if the kids watching this film get a hurt feeling, that wound may bloom into understanding in their future lives. Maybe the children will feel the story looks tragic, but if they can feel moved in watching it, that is important for their future development. I hope this film will develop some sort of compassion.

So, although In This Corner of the World is mainly for adults, I am sure children are welcome.

In making In This Corner of the World, you seem to have two different challenges; to tell a compelling story about the main characters, and to teach the audience about the history of the time. Is it ever hard to do both these things at once?

I'm sure there are a lot of films made in Japan which tell stories set during the war. I wonder if those films really tell people how tragic life really was. To me, even at that time, there were many people trying to live a normal daily life. There were lots of ladies who kept enjoying their fashionable style, lots of kids looking forward to going to school every day. So it's important we realise that normal people suffered, and understand how deeply they suffered. For example, we can understand roughly about bombing: the size and power of the bombs; why these bombs were made; what were the targets. In the film, when the air-raids happen, with the land exploding upwards from the impact and the sound of the anti-aircraft fire and the noise of the airplanes, we tried to express as much as possible by the sound effects alone.

When we worked on the dubbing and I heard the sounds that the sound artist made for me, I actually slightly regretted making this film, because it was so terrifying. I could feel the horror from just the noises. These things really happened to Suzu, who lived a nice happy life and was going to be injured by the war. At the time, I put myself in Suzu's place and I regretted making a film like this for anyone who had a happy daily life.

However, I completed the film with those feelings, and I feel this can give a totally different feeling to other films that described the war. So (the film is) joyful with a good outlook and hope, at the same time as (it depicts) the tragedy of destruction. I think mercilessness is the real essence of war.

At the very start of the film, set at Christmas, we hear the tune that Westerners know as the carol, “Oh Come All Ye Faithful.” Was this song popular in Japan at the time shown in the film?

Christmas celebrations have happened here since the 1920s. So in the film they enjoy Christmas as if it was normal and nothing special. It was very normal to hear that sort of music at that time in Japan. We tend to think the older Japanese did not know Christmas, but the reality is quite the opposite. They were as “western-like as (they are) these days.

The inclusion of a Glenn Miller song was a surprise, as it is widely believed that American music was banned in Japan during the war.

A person who visited a Naval petty officer at the army hospital in Kure wrote in a book that they were listening to American jazz records. According to the book, a higher ranking officer who was downstairs came up and told them off. At that time the Japanese occupied the Philippines and probably got the record there. The Japanese already knew American jazz music from before the war, liked it and when they found the Glenn Miller thought, “Let's listen to this new music,” and bought it to Japan.

The Japanese who occupied Singapore and Philippines were touched by and surprised by lots of American culture, like Walt Disney animation. They were simply interested in new discoveries. Also, I think they wondered about the war itself, and I believe they thought we cannot fight people who make wonderful things like this.

In This Corner of the World is being released worldwide, including releases in Britain on June 28 and in the US in September.

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