Interview: Sunao Katabuchi

by Bamboo Dong,

We had the honor of sitting down with Sunao Katabuchi earlier this year to talk about his upcoming film, In This Corner of the World, adapted from Fumiyo Kōno's manga. Katabuchi previously directed Black Lagoon and Mai Mai Miracle, the latter of which had a successful crowd-funding campaign to produce an English dub.

I'm very excited to talk about your new project, To All The Corners Of The World. There aren't that many details released in English yet, but based on what I know of the manga and your previous work, I can only imagine it will be something amazing.

Thank you. We actually didn't have the English name of it until now because the manga is only available in Japanese. Before coming here, we contacted Futabasha so that we could actually have a title for you guys and I think we are going to stick with the title In This Corner of the World.

I think that's very interesting because To All The Corners Of The World and In This Corner of the World have such different meanings. What it is that you want to convey in the title alone?

The story is about a girl who is always at the corner of the world. Even if there is a huge war raging, she still is at the corner of the world. I went to the place where she was living in real life to have a look at the place.

That city had a large port where there was a huge battleship. Her house was actually far away from that port and literally at the edge of the city. The story looks at the world from the little corner that she sits in. At first, she doesn't know how this world is shaped from her corner, so this story is written from that perspective—from the view that she has from her corner of the world. Since she doesn't know the shape of the world or anything, this only shows her limited view of the things that she knows of the world. As she develops mentally, she begins to see different things from that corner. The story is basically like that.

This story takes a very different point of view of the war. Were you ever tentative about tackling a story that is framed in something as emotional as World War II?

Before this, I made Mai Mai Miracle, and that was a story about the world in 1955 in Yamaguchi prefecture. In 1955, I was a small boy, so I have a deep understanding of what it was like back in those days in a town. The character Kiiko, she is modeled after a 1930s kind of character. From the 1930s where she was, to the 1950s where the story takes place, to the 1960s when it was my childhood… there's a similarity in regards to the kinds of things that were there. When I saw the photo of the town back in 1930, I almost thought that it was my town in 1960—it had that same kind of feel.

But if you look at it, the 1940s is the only odd one out in there. I wanted the challenge of seeing if I could actually understand the odd years out, the 1940s, that I personally feel don't go with the flow of the 1930s, 50s, and 60s. I wanted to tackle it as someone who would go into that era. In Mai Mai Miracle, there's a character named Shinko. Her mother is around the same age as the mother in In This Corner of the World. Shinko's mother is depicted as a regular woman, the kind of person you'd see anywhere. But you come to think, what happened to her 10 years ago? I would like to understand that kind of thing very much.

In order to understand that, I would first need to look at the world, as opposed to the view from the corner of the world. The world is very broad and I'm not God, so I can't look at the world from a higher place, and I didn't know where to start. So to do that, I decided to check out the world and how it felt in smaller elements. Taking them collaboratively, I would have a better picture of the world. I asked things like "Did people back then really dress up like this?" In order to understand this, I collected a few thousand photos of the era. As a result of that, right now we are doing layout. I would be happy if you would go by [the Otakon art display] and see our progress.

What we are trying to do actually is not say stuff like, "Where was the world trying to go?" or "Who was in control of it?" What we were aiming for is, "What did the world feel like back then?" But for what my point of view would be after that time, you would probably have to read the manga or see the movie to decide for yourself.

Despite the 40s being the odd decade out, did you find as you were working on the project that family life is pretty timeless?

From what I understand, even if the 40s are the odd years out, people's hearts don't change. What I'm trying to see is how regular sentiments felt. In that era, women were told to wear pants called monpe, but later I found out that most of them said, "I don't want to wear this because it just isn't cute or pretty." It wasn't until the aerial bombings happened, until there was a need for more active wear, that they actually started wearing these monpe that you see here.

In reality, what they wanted to do was dress up like any average girl would want to do. And they wanted someone that could see them dressed up and made up. That era where many of the men were at war and they lost many of the men…that was their youth. For these women, their youth was gone. They wanted someone see the fashion that they had.

There is a female poet who wrote a poem called "My Most Beautiful Time" that is about a woman around the same age as her. It's about people who would have shined the most at the peak of their youth but couldn't. But I feel what they really wanted was for men of the same age to see them in their proud outfits and everything. And I'm sure they all wanted a family. Shinko, from Mai Mai Miracle, was born in 1945, just before the war ended. She was born to a young couple that was married during the war. She was actually born in this world before the war ended, during the war, and that's a big point here.. So looking at it that way, people's hearts are unchanging. Even if it's in the 1940s or the 1950s, it's still the same thing.

Obviously as time goes on, it's harder and harder to find people who were children during this time, or grew up during that time. Through the research for this film, do you feel that you've experienced something very special and unique, having the opportunity to speak with these people?

I definitely feel it was an experience I could get from no other. Like this scene over here, you see this bridge over here, right? [Katabuchi shows a sketch]

When you cross that bridge, up in the sky more than 500 meters over it, that's where the atomic bomb hit. This story is back in 1934, so when we are depicting this scene, there are many babies. All these babies fall subject to the atomic bomb when they are teenagers. But even in that group of people, there are some who have survived. So from those people who survived, I was able to talk to them and get the shapes of the buildings and how the town looked back then. Like say, how the shop was shaped back then, or what was in the display windows.

I'll tell a story that happened the day before yesterday. The day before I left Japan, I got a letter from one of the people I interviewed. It was in regards to the store next to the character's store in the movie. The girl who grew up in that store is now an old lady; she had decided to talk to us about it. She told me that what she saw in the artwork really was similar to the street view back when she was small. But this store had two display windows back then, not one.

These kinds of things, when they talk about it, whether they're male or female, they talk about what they were doing, what they were playing when they were kids. Everyone remembers the time when it was still peaceful. That lets us depict the world, the touch, the feel, the taste of the world we were never able to experience.

It sounds like a very special project and I'm very excited.

Thank you.

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