Photo/IllutrationA scene from “In This Corner of the World” ((c) Fumiyo Kono/ Futabasha Publishers Ltd./ In This Corner of the World Project)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

An animated film set in wartime Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, is having an unusually long run following its release two years ago, with some enthusiastic supporters having seen the film dozens of times.

One theater still showing "In This Corner of the World," directed by Sunao Katabuchi, has become a pilgrimage site for fans who connect with each other through social networking services, prompting the cinema operator to challenge its own screening record.

The film is based on the manga series of the same name by Hiroshima native Fumiyo Kono and published by Futabasha Publishers Ltd.

Tsuchiura Central Cinemas in Ibaraki Prefecture celebrated the second anniversary of the film's theatrical release on Nov. 12.

Decorations had been put up in the lobby, and fans who turned up earlier than the opening time of 10 a.m. were seen talking with one another. Audience members broke into applause after the screening was finished.

The cinema was the only one in the country that had been showing the film until that day. It seemed fair to say that it helped the movie become a long-running hit.

“Before I knew it, our theater had become a ‘pilgrimage site,’” Ryuji Terauchi, 63, president of the company that operates the theater, said with a smile.

With only two screens currently in use, the title is hardly profitable, Terauchi said.

"I don't know how long it can continue beating its own record," he said. "We want to take it as far as we can."

While the number of cinemas playing the film was declining, Terauchi was surprised last autumn when he discovered a Twitter account that keeps track of the number of consecutive days the title has been shown. There was also a fan who shared information on the film, such as the showtimes and a map to the theater from train stations.

"You seldom come across a movie that fans are willing to do so much for to give it a boost. I want to reciprocate their feelings," the cinema manager said.

Terauchi finds commonalities between the movie and the history of Tsuchiura, next to which there was a naval air base in an adjacent town during wartime.

"My father used to tell me what things were like in the town," he said. "When I saw the cityscape of Kure, which had been a military port, I thought Tsuchiura might have looked like this.”

According to film experts, a movie is considered long-running when it stays in theaters for a few months, making the two-year run of “In This Corner of the World” an anomaly.

The popularity of the film, whose production costs were backed by an online crowdfunding campaign, is supported by a fan base connected through social networking services. They share and spread information on Twitter, with one of them tweeting about screenings at public halls and other local venues, and another translating tweets posted by foreigners who saw the film.

Fans from across the country gathered for a workshop hosted by director Katabuchi as part of the Hiroshima International Film Festival, which opened Nov. 23 in Hiroshima. Among hard-core supporters who have seen the film dozens of times was Mizuguchi-san, whose sightings at screening houses across Japan have been reported online.

The fan is an ardent supporter of actress Non, who plays the protagonist, Suzu, since she appeared in the hit Japan Broadcasting Corp. (NHK) morning drama “Ama-chan.” He calls himself "Mizuguchi" as a tribute to one of the characters from the TV series, business manager Takuma Mizuguchi.

Mizuguchi-san has attended screenings at which the actress joined on stage, as well as other events held in many parts of the country. In total, he has seen the movie 175 times in 87 locations, as of Nov. 12. Fans have spotted him on numerous occasions and such sightings have gone viral on Twitter.

"Manager Mizuguchi bridges the world of the story and reality," Katabuchi said.

Another enthusiast who goes by the name Keroron Seijin is impressed by the exchanges among fans, saying, "People who never would have met otherwise have become connected."

The fan living in Hiroshima has seen the film at cinemas and local screening events even after the movie was released on DVD.

"We burst into laughter and break down in tears. (I go to screenings) because I can watch the movie with others, and I enjoy the reaction of audience members around me."

"In This Corner of the World" has also inspired people who were not interested in the atomic bombings or war to think about those devastating events.

Nan, who lives in the Kanto region, visited Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park on the Peace Memorial Day of Aug. 6. After seeing the film, Nan started visiting the city frequently to attend screening events and visit locations featured in the film.

While Nan was previously reluctant to discuss topics associated with the atomic bombings or war, things changed for the film enthusiast after visiting locations featured in the story.

"I've become able to imagine that the Peace Park was once a city district (with houses and shops) where people happily lived their daily lives," Nan said.

Although the film focuses on a woman who lived in wartime Kure, fans do not refer to it as a "war movie."

"In all ages, there will be conflicts and squabbles, but humans are strong enough to overcome those difficulties," said a 39-year-old company employee from Yohohama who has seen the film about 50 times. "The movie showed me how strong life can be. One of the charms of this film is its universality."

Katabuchi is now working on an extended version of the film, titled “Kono Sekai no (Sara ni Ikutsumono) Katasumi ni,” including episodes cut from the original manga when it was adapted into the film. It was initially scheduled to be released in December, but is taking longer than expected.

"(The film) is moving steadily forward step by step," Katabuchi said. "I want to show it as soon as possible."

According to Tokyo Theatres Co., which distributes the anime adaptation, "In This Corner of the World" grossed 2.7 billion yen ($23.8 million) at the box office from 2.1 million admissions as of Nov. 12. It won the 40th Japan Academy Prize for best animation and was named the best Japanese movie of 2016 in the 90th installment of film magazine Kinema Junpo’s annual top 10 list.

The film was released on DVD in September 2017.

(This article was written by Sonoko Miyazaki and Kanoko Tsuchiya.)