The specter of the Hiroshima bombing hangs over the World War II anime In This Corner of the World, and yet, the movie easily lures viewers into a specious calm with easy vignettes of ‘40s Japan. Falling into the regularity and mundanity of surviving a seemingly far-off war only serves to make the inevitable more catastrophic.
Suzu, the movie’s dreamy protagonist, enthuses over a rare watermelon in her Hiroshima hometown. Waiting for it to be carved, she traces her hand along the lines of her wood ceiling. At school, she carefully whittles a miniature pencil to a point. At the ocean, a boy gives her a new one and, in paint this time, she draws the waves as leaping white rabbits. The boy’s brother joined the navy and drowned, he tells her.
With reluctance, Suzu’s world expands beyond those trifles, all in sync with the war. Also with reluctance, the viewer will likely recall the oppressive facts of history with which Suzu will catch up. After Suzu marries a near stranger in far-off Kure, she builds a bomb shelter in the garden. For her recipe book, she uses a samurai’s “Food Increase Method,” which he designed during a siege. It is painful to watch Suzu ration rice and, almost invisibly, quit her drawing in favor of household war duties. Suzu, and by extension the viewer, is robbed of her adolescence.
In This Corner of the World is a subtle and excellent movie about growing up during a war that slowly insinuates itself on daily life. Today, it debuts in U.S. theaters for wide release. As the threat of bombings creeps in to Suzu’s life, tension mounts. It feels unbearably sad to watch that tension spill over and drown out Suzu’s artless innocence. I found myself whispering, “No. No,” as Suzu learns warship classifications, the existence of a black market for sugar, the difference between a false alarm and a fire bombing. A sweet love story between Suzu and her stoic husband acts as a more upbeat throughline.
The movie was made in 2016, but its animation style has a vintage feel. In moments of great duress, director Sunao Katabuchi strips out all anime likeness in favor of harrowing chalk drawings of flashing bombs. As all normalcy drains from Suzu’s life, that life is rendered in broader strokes instead of the delicate detail reserved for those watermelons from her childhood.
I will watch this movie several times simply because it continues to haunt me like a happy dream that ended as a nightmare. Hiroshima is a part of our shared history, and yet, never was I able to visualize the precious regularity of the lives it took before watching In This Corner of the World.