Insomuch as there can be a sweet, affirming coming-of-age tale that ends with a nuclear blast, Sunao Katabuchi’s new Japanese anime In This Corner of the World fits the bill.
We first meet the lively, imaginative Suzu as a girl in the 1930s. She lives in Hiroshima, and loves to draw. But at 18, she moves to the nearby port city of Kure, where she joins a new husband and family. There are understandable adjustments to her new domestic arrangement, but worse is the growing impact war is having on day-to-day life.
Katabuchi’s depiction of the homefront keeps the film set on a small scale, with domestic crises including kimonos and family spats. Thus, the first half of the film unfolds rather slowly, but as the war ramps up, so do the consequences. Excitement over the Japanese fleet in the harbor and pride at food-rationing skills give way to sorrow and fear as deaths mount and bombs drop from the sky onto the otherwise peaceful town. The film’s on-screen rollout of specific dates throughout 1944 and 1945 primes us for the inevitable terrible one — Aug. 6, 1945, when an atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima.
Suzu fights to keep her resourcefulness and hope, finding joy in the world around her, whether it be a kindness from a stranger or the beauty of the natural world. Parts of her struggle are basic growing pains and adjusting to a new family, but her positivity is challenged as the war’s horrors pile up and directly affect her. While In This Corner is specific to a time, place and culture, it offers the universality of the hardships endured by civilians during war, and the losses.
The animation is lovely, often incorporating Suzu’s sketches, painting and visualizations, including a genre-breaking sequence toward the end that in its simplicity delivers both a visual and emotional shock. Despite some similar subject matter, In This Corner doesn’t pack quite the same gut-punch as 1988’s Grave of the Fireflies, but its wistfulness and depiction of quiet resilience is nonetheless affecting.