Well, I’ve always considered myself a “critic” here, I guess time to put that to the test. Shout out to Moya who provided the incredible review of the critical lens, and provided the prompt to try using critical theory in a review. However, I’m taking it a step further. Have you ever heard of the “5 Fingers of Death”?
Sway in the Morning brings on rappers and challenges them to freestyle over 5 different beats.
I think critical lens are interesting to explore but it can become a crutch if you can only stick to your weapon of choice. I also think it’s easy to recognize these lens in certain media over others. So that’s why I’m challenging myself to freestyle a bit.
So here’s the rules. To prevent me from hand-picking easy films I am strictly limiting myself to the next 2 films on my review queue. Fortunately I watched a pair of films that have enough depth and merit that this wasn’t impossible. My two films are:
- In This Corner of the World (Recommended by my good friend Moya)
- Whisper of the Heart (Recommended by talented blog superstar Lita Kino)
- (also be wary of spoilers, if you haven’t watch the films)
Just to be clear on the challenge of this, I picked the lens I used and I got to pick what film to use for each lens. However, I also decided to keep it an even split. Yes even split, because even though this was inspired by the 5 Fingers of Death…. I decided it was going to be 8. Just because it is a “freestyle” doesn’t mean it is all impromptu, some of them like autobiographical would have been impossible without a bit of research.
I also didn’t want to be factually wrong so I did revisit some clips of the film and research a bit for each topic both to make sure I was representing the critical lens and the films accurately. Alright challenge accepted, let’s jump into it.
Biographical Theory (IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD)
Kono Sekai no Katasumi ni envisions Hiroshima and the surrounding Japanese towns not as a landmark of devastation but as a place to call home. An arduous position to attempt, but one beautifully achieved by the Nishi-ku, Hiroshima native. Manga author and illustrator Fumiyo Kōno revives the quaint daily lives of those that once inhabited the same streets with a testament to the perseverance of its people.
Fumiyo humble upbringing presents itself in the conservative livelihood that Suzu endures. Despite growing up during Japan’s industrial expansion and shift away from agriculture; Fumiyo’s love of manga came from her parent’s reluctancy to buy it for her. Suzu inhabits Fumiyo’s desires for a better life when she wanders into the red-light district of Kure. There Suzu recognizes the indulgence of luxuries she’ll never reach due to her current status.
However, Fumiyo recognizes the intangible value of family, a sense of home and the impact it can have in molding you as a person. Fumiyo background in humanities, shines through as Suzu interprets her relationships, the war, fear of ineptitude and longing desires. Suzu uses artistic expression to come to terms with the world around her. While it can be misinterpreted as the case with the accusations of spying, ostracized as the many characters critical of Suzu do, or even taken away by Suzu’s injuries the impression and expression behind each piece is forever eternal.
To Fumiyo Hiroshima wasn’t what is described in history textbooks it was her home. That’s why Fumiyo’s tale emphasizes that Hiroshima is more than a footnote in history, but a home. The film’s director Sunao Katabuchi emphasized the importance of capturing Fumiyo’s intent of portraying normalcy throughout his adaptation.
“The important part of In This Corner of the World was to portray everyday life… we spoke to the elderly who lived during the war, they will tell us about the air raids and the hardest times…they didn’t feel like information on their everyday lives had any value….I feel like those experiences are invaluable….This film and the original manga treat ‘the everyday’ with great importance and respect”Sunao Katabuchi, Director of In This Corner of the World
Both authorship behind the manga and film versions tackled the subject not with sensationalism but with authenticity, with intimacy. Suzu reflects Fumiyo’s process to come to terms with the catastrophe of her birthplace, and how everyone has their own personal journey no matter what small corner of the world they inhabit.
Reader Response Criticism (WHISPER OF THE HEART)
While possible to humor you with the abundance of jokes about my personal affinity for “Country Roads” my deep admiration for this film goes plenty beyond that. While admittedly unfamiliar with Ghibli’s extensive library I do think the studies charm prevails across all of their projects. However, it seems I have become accustomed to the studios shortcomings as well.
Ghibli is great at character iconography, but in terms of well-rounded character profiles they leave more to be desired. Ghibli characters are defined through their conflict or interests rather than the vibrance of their personality. However, Whisper of the Heart is one of the more advantageous set-ups for this pratfall. Instead of a cute little witch, or fierce protector of the forest, we have a typical girl. The abundance of coming of age stories has made this character was always going to seem tired.
Shizuku is a fine character but one that is more of a self-insert beacon that attaches the reader to her struggle. By recognizing ourselves in Shizuku shoes through personal familiarity with anxieties and seeking validation and purpose do we learn the lesson she comes to terms with. Success is built on hard work and discipline, and how the journey of self-actualization is intimidating but gratifying.
Shizuku has an incredible relatability, especially in her yearn for adventure. She presents an endearing childish whimsy to her life that it certainly harkens back to both my memories of growing up and partially how I approach life through creative outlets. Shizuku finds the name in her books to be a sign of her true love, and she grows eager to meet the boy of her dreams. The idyllic outlook she has to her future is one that viewers gravitate towards to address their own hopes.
In the end, Shizuku presents a satisfying and genuine tale of achievement. Shizuku is commended not for the quality of her writing, but for imaginative spirit and dedication. Shizuku isn’t satisfied with her end result, but she does accept the warmth of being praised. There is something rather touching about Shizuku’s fear of inadequacy being quelled by an acknowledgment of her growth and passion.
While the film is about characters, and their ordeals; I’d argue that it is truly a Whisper to the Heart. Beckoning the fools who dream to pursue their very own fairytale.
Marxist (WHISPER OF THE HEART)
Whisper of the Heart clearly illustrates how a system can oppress it’s people by shunning the power of the individual through enforcing conformity. Nishi’s geode themed metaphor is commentary on the efficiency of labor. Essentially, the most effective way to cut and polish for emerald is to go beyond the surface and find where the true value of the individual lies.
Yet, Shizuku is boxed in by the standard education that she eventually discovers is inhibiting her. It is no mere coincidence that the two lead characters find self-realization are not amongst the traditional path set by their parents and governing bodies.
Seiji who works in violin-making craftsmanship and Shizuku who fancies herself a writer. Essential they work to regain the power that society has attempted to steal from them, guiding them to pursue more exploitable forms of work. Emancipation from the system is what gives Shizuku a greater sense of purpose and passion in her daily life.
Whisper of the Heart demonstrates that prosperity exists beyond material wealth. Shizuku room is an absolute cluttered assortment of things. Despite her abundance of possessions, her arc centers around her feeling unfulfilled. The item that demonstrates the most value and intrigue is the Baron statue. The Baron is considered immeasurably valuable due to it’s inherent sentimental value. The Baron is a symbol of how true value exists not in the goods themselves but the memories, emotions, and affectionate we cultivate on our own.
Eco-criticism (IN THIS CORNER OF THE WORLD)
Despite the carnage of man, the beauty of nature is eternal. While the war rages in the foreground, the lush landscapes and ocean views remain omnipresent throughout. The bombings and military activity escalate yet the film rarely alters its color palette to reflect the increased pollution.
The film’s vivid imagery further exemplifies nature as the delicate and intrinsic beauty that it is, and how challenged it is by the unwelcome advances of mankind. Suzu’s artistic depiction of the rabbits as the waves becomes a reoccurring visual of the picturesque shoreline. While the coexistence of the ocean and navy ships offers a muse to Suzu’s art, the finale image is the white rabbits carrying of the destroyed Aoba into the sky. The wreckage of man will come to pass but the environment persists.
The infringement of the war efforts onto the nature of Kure is a distinct element of the film. One of the earliest signs of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima is a building panel dislodged into a tree. Part of Kure’s identity is built upon it’s geographical location, and it becomes a piece of hope that civilization can endure. One of the film’s closing remarks goes as followed:
“Kure means we are protected by nine mountains. On your right is Mt. Yasumi, to the left is Mt. Hachimaki, And in the center is Mt. Haigamine. That’s where our home is.”
The homes and buildings of Hiroshima lay in ruin, but the mountains of Kure remain intact. Nature is considered a healing agent, protecting from the scars of war, and amending the spirits of those who have lost so many. After, losing her hand Suzu mentions how she’s fed up with forcing herself to be glad. After a sort of retreat through nature, Suzu recalls how Harumi used to laugh at the birds, so Suzu promises herself to smile. Nature is the reminder of the fragility and essence of life itself. Suzu finds it as her ultimate comfort in uncovering her own inner solace.
AND I’M NOT DONE YET! This is crazy, let me know how I’m doing so far. I’m breaking this up into 2 posts but I will release them together. So maybe if had enough, leave a like and read part 2 at your own discretion but I still got 4 more to. Hope you’ll turn the page. See you there.
Additional Reading/Used Sources:
Gary D. Allinson (2004). Japan’s Postwar History. Cornell UP. pp. 84ff.