In the summer of 2016, Japanese animated film Your Name. dominated headlines as it smashed one box office record after another. Its success overshadowed the other animations that came out in the country last year – with one surprising exception.
Made for only ¥250 million (HK$17.4 million), Sunao Katabuchi’s indie production In This Corner of the World quietly entered cinemas in mid-November. A month later, it made a surprise appearance at the top of renowned film publication Kinema Junpo’s annual list of the year’s top 10 domestic movies (Your Name. didn’t make that list). Word spread, and this critics’ darling became one of the year’s highest-grossing Japanese films.
Produced using two-dimensional hand-drawn animation, World tells the story of Suzu, a simple girl living in late 1930s Hiroshima. When she receives a marriage proposal from Shusaku, a stranger, she moves to Kure, a large naval port city 15 miles away. Those familiar with history will know what happens to her hometown a few years later.
Katabuchi has created the most unflinching animated depiction of war’s effect on everyday people since Studio Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies. The film strictly focuses on ordinary moments in Suzu’s life, infusing humorous moments – such as Suzu’s resourceful ways to make the most out of tiny rations and her accidental trip into the red light district – into a story that gets increasingly grim as it approaches the inevitable.
It’s a tricky tone to maintain. Katabuchi doesn’t shy from tragedies (one death earns audible gasps in the cinema), but he does drop Grave’s bleak outlook for a more optimistic ending that celebrates the resilience of women and condemns war. The visuals of the film may be drawn by hand, but its characters are so vivid I could’ve easily watched another two hours of Suzu’s life story.
Director Niki Caro’s The Zookeeper’s Wife also celebrates the resilience of one woman during the war, but it uses more conventional dramatics to connect to a wider audience. Based on a true story, the film follows the ordeal of Jan and Antonina Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh and Jessica Chastain), zookeepers who sheltered 300 Jews in the Warsaw Zoo during the Second World War.
The script by Angela Workman, based on a non-fiction book by Diane Ackerman, condenses a packed story covering nearly six years into two hours. Many of the themes will seem familiar, such as the close-call escapes, the bonding between Antonina and her ‘guests’ and the cruelty of Nazi soldiers. The Zookeeper’s Wife isn’t quite in the league of Schindler’s List or The Pianist, but the incredible story is nonetheless riveting.
As a producer and star, Chastain keeps the film together with a commanding screen presence. Antonina’s feigned romance with an arrogant Nazi zoologist (played by Daniel Brühl) – a guise to keep him from suspecting anything – adds a great deal of tension to the story. Despite a dubious Polish accent that may be a bit distracting, The Zookeeper’s Wife is another solid entry into Chastain’s remarkable resume.
Need to watch something to get you through your journey? Check how you’re feeling from our handy list of entertainment-related symptoms
Restless Traveller Sydrome
Fidgety? Can’t concentrate? You need to get engrossed in something. Try these.
Alec Baldwin lends his voice to the Templeton family’s domineering new addition in animated comedy The Boss Baby (movies – Western cinema), while Emma Roberts and Dave Franco take on a dangerous game of dare in Nerve (movies – Western cinema). A group of gamers team up to clear the name of their leader in South Korean action thriller Fabricated City (movies – Asian cinema) (above). Natalie Portman forms an unlikely bond with a hitman in 1990s classic Leon (The Professional) (movies – Western classics).
Altitude-Adjusted Lachrymosity Syndrome
It’s a physiological fact – we get weepy at 35,000 feet. Why fight it?
See how movies can boost the morale of a nation at war in British comedy-drama Their Finest (movies – Western cinema) (above). The love between a king and a commoner causes uproar in real-life drama A United Kingdom (movies – Western cinema). Chris Evans stars as a man who tries to maintain a normal life for his child prodigy niece in Gifted (movies – Western cinema). Jessica Chastain stars as a zookeeper who secretly shelters Jews in Warsaw during the Second World War in The Zookeeper’s Wife (movies – Western cinema).
You’re not feeling very mainstream today. Time to get arty. Experiment a little.
Terrence Malick directs an all-star cast in a dreamy meditation on love and fidelity set against the backdrop of the music world in Song to Song (movies – arthouse) (above). A disgraced spy plans his revenge in Spanish thriller El Hombre de las Mil Caras (Smoke & Mirrors) (movies – arthouse). A prosecutor is exposed to the dark side of high society in South Korean political thriller The King (movies – Asian cinema). Animatronic creatures are sent into the animal world to observe their behaviour in the BBC documentary series Spy in the Wild (TV – documentary).
Fear of Missing Out
Everyone’s talking about this movie or TV show. What do you mean you’ve not seen it?
Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Reynolds take on a dangerous alien organism in sci-fi thriller Life (movies – Western cinema). Follow Jackie Chan on an adventure to India in action comedy Kung Fu Yoga (movies – Chinese cinema). Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley play mothers with secrets in Big Little Lies (TV – drama) (above). Return to Central Perk and revisit the 10th and final season of classic sitcom Friends (TV – comedy).